Just one week after ICE announced they would require international students to attend in-person classes in order to remain in the country, the Trump administration has rescinded the controversial rule. In their earlier announcement, ICE had said that students on F-1 or M-1 visas would be required to leave the United States if they enrolled for courses held entirely online. Students attending universities holding courses entirely online in the fall would be forced to depart the country or transfer to a different school. This despite the fact that the number of new COVID-19 infections continues to rise, and that the CDC considers in-person college classes to significantly heighten the risk of coronavirus spread.
ICE’s announced rule was met with swift backlash from immigration rights activists as well as the nation’s colleges and universities. Within a day of the announcement, Harvard and MIT filed the first of eight lawsuits against ICE challenging the rule; others to sue ICE over the rule include John Hopkins University, the University of California, and 17 states as well as the District of Columbia. Over two hundred students, schools, local governments, and organizations also came together to file 13 amicus briefs in the Harvard and MIT lawsuit — all in support of Harvard’s and MIT’s position.
In the face of near-universal criticism, the Trump administration backed down on the rule. The federal judge in that case announced at the start of proceedings this morning that an agreement had been reached between both parties wherein ICE would rescind the July 6th rule, and return immigration policy regarding international students to the “status quo”.
With their rescinding of the July 6th policy change, guidelines for international students would revert back to a prior March 13th announcement by ICE. In March, ICE had temporarily suspended long-standing requirements that international students enroll chiefly in in-person classes until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This morning’s unexpected reversal of ICE policy provides relief to the nation’s roughly 1 million international students, more than half of whom are visiting scholars from Asian countries. However, this episode also underscores the precarious positions of our nation’s immigrant populations (particularly under the Trump administration) and the capriciousness by which immigration policy is written, re-written, and enforced — often while explicitly overlooking the devastating impact these politically-motivated policies have on immigrants’ lives and livelihoods.
While international students have received a momentary respite following today’s announced reversal, the Trump administration has engaged several policy actions in recent months to openly target America’s undocumented and documented immigrants. So long as Trump remains in office, there is no guarantee that his administration won’t try again to target international students or other immigrants as part of a seemingly concerted White House effort to fully halt immigration to the United States during the remaining months of Trump’s first term.