US judge sets quick review of Trump international student order

With universities stressing urgency, court to decide by mid-week on banning evictions

July 12, 2020
court room
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The Trump administration rejected a federal judge’s request to delay its threat to deport foreign students whose universities move online, setting up a ruling in the coming days on whether the judge will temporarily forbid implementation.

As universities around the country stepped up their legal and political fight against the Trump plan, US district judge Allison Burroughs in Boston set a hearing for 14 July on a temporary restraining order.

The judge is expected to rule by the next day, said William Lee, an attorney representing Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their lawsuit against the Trump administration.

“This timeline recognises that thousands of students at Harvard and MIT, as well as at colleges and universities across the country, need certainty as they prepare for the fall semester and to know that they will be allowed to continue their studies without threat of deportation,” he said in a written statement.

Mr Lee praised Judge Burroughs for setting a “rightfully aggressive” timeline that requires filing from both sides by noon on 13 July, responses by noon on 14 July, a hearing on that afternoon, and a decision within a day.

The administration said this past week that international students must attend in-person classes this autumn semester if their university offers them, and that they cannot remain in the US if their college moves entirely online.

Donald Trump, facing re-election in November, has been desperate to get the US economy revived quickly, and has insisted that the reopening of schools at all levels is essential, even in the face of rising coronavirus infection rates.

But US universities, even as many make tentative plans to reopen their physical campuses, have protested that the administration’s order is draconian, given that they cannot guarantee not having to shut down again.

Other states and institutions have backed the legal action brought by Harvard and MIT, or started their own, saying they need to protect the health and educational futures of the 1 million international students attending US colleges.

Those students also are critical to the financial health of US colleges, given that they pay above-average tuition fees and appear less likely to quit their studies if institutions remain in online-only formats.

US colleges struggling with the pandemic-driven economic recession already expect very few international freshmen in the US, given the widespread restrictions on overseas travel and reductions in visa-processing services.

But higher education experts have concluded that more than 90 per cent of the international students who were attending a US college this spring, when virus-driven lockdowns began, have remained in the country.

Others filing lawsuits against the Trump order include the state of California. Its California State University system, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, already has said it plans mostly online formats in the autumn.

Cal State’s chancellor, Timothy White, said in a statement that the Trump administration’s “callous and inflexible” policy threatened more than 10,000 international students in the CSU system.

Harvard and MIT also plan to teach mostly online in the autumn, with limited numbers of students on campus.

Even the administration’s usual allies in the business community are protesting the White House position.

The US Chamber of Commerce, in a statement, said foreign graduates of US colleges represented a critical source of talent for US companies. “We urge the administration to rethink this ill-conceived policy,” said the chamber, the world’s largest business organisation.

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