Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today joined a coalition of 18 Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”
In Oregon, there were over 13,000 international students who were studying in the state based on the most recent statewide data, and most of these students were likely on F-1 and M-1 visas.
“If we do not quickly stop this rule from going into effect, our higher education system will be dramatically changed. Thousands of Oregon international students who are supposed to start classes in a few weeks will risk deportation, and may lose entirely their access to education in the United States,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “This administration has repeatedly looked for ways to punish immigrants, and this is just another cruel example. Except this time, they are targeting students who are in Oregon to receive an education and give back to our communities. They are also playing with the health of students during this pandemic, and circumventing public health guidance which encourages social distancing and distance learning when possible. Colleges and universities are united with us in saying this rule will have dramatic impacts upon our state.”
The lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. On July 6, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the United States and take all of their classes online during the pandemic, upending months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning.
Kyle Thomas, Director of Legislative and Policy Affairs for the State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission filed a written declaration with the lawsuit. Thomas said that based on average tuition, books and living expenses across the state, the direct economic loss to the state of the proposed ICE rule change for the 2020-2021 school years is $144,735,500.
In the filed declaration, Thomas said, “The State of Oregon and Oregon’s higher education system will be dramatically, irreversibly, negatively affected by the proposed temporary rule of the Immigration and Customs (ICE) to limit or restrict foreign students with F-1 and M-1 visas from continuing their education if some or all of the education is online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICE’s newly-announced proposed temporary rule, not yet finalized or registered in the Federal Register, proposed to affect the Fall 2020 education term, just six to eleven weeks away for most private and public higher education institutions.”
The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students, and says the abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in a number of ways:
- Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
- Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;
- Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home counties is not possible;
- Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees;
- Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
- Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.
In addition to Oregon, and lead state Massachusetts, the lawsuit was joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.