Universities fight new immigration restrictions on international students in court

Local colleges are scrambling to keep international students in the country as lawsuits challenge new federal rules barring their presence...

Local colleges are scrambling to keep international students in the country as lawsuits challenge new federal rules barring their presence while taking online-only classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most classes through the California State University and University of California systems, as well as at City College of San Francisco, will be conducted online, imperiling the residency of thousands of local international students a month before instruction begins.

On Friday, California State University and University of San Francisco, through the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, signed onto a brief supporting a lawsuit by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology seeking a temporary stop to the policy. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also filed suit Thursday on behalf of the CSU and California Community Colleges systems, arguing that the new policy unfairly hurts students and revenue for the colleges while risking public health, and the University of California system has said it also plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government.

“Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well,” Becerra said in a statement on Thursday. “No one graduates more students from college or assembles a more talented and diverse group of future leaders than California. Today’s lawsuit rests on America’s enduring principle that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can earn a chance to get ahead.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that students on F-1 and M-1 visas would not be allowed to reside in the United States and attend all-online classes at American colleges. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program made an exemption for spring and summer sessions while the country was in the throes of responding to coronavirus.

The new rules come as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging throughout the country and in California. While the suit is ongoing, colleges are working through the new rules to keep students enrolled and in the country.

“International students add to the vibrant diversity of our SF State community,” said San Francisco State spokesperson Kent Bravo. “The new policy from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could immediately lead to slowing or halting students’ paths to achieving their higher education goals and potential contributions to our communities. In consultation with the CSU, we are currently reviewing ICE’s new directive to determine how to reduce its impact on our students.”

San Francisco State University has an anticipated 1,500 international students registering for the fall semester. City College of San Francisco had about 575 students on F-1 visas enrolled, and none on M-1 visas, in the spring and is offering assistance through its Office of International Programs.

“With colleges and universities across the country making the difficult decision to move most courses to remote instruction during the COVID-19 health crisis, the new guidance from ICE will have far-reaching effects on our campus and across the U.S.,” said Vinicio Lopez, CCSF dean of academic affairs for ESL and international education, in an email to students on Tuesday. “Please know that work to provide options and assistance to our international students is ongoing, and we will provide updates as soon as possible.”

In fall 2019, there were 41,200 international students out of 285,066 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the UC system. Nearly all of those students are on F-1 visas, but some are on J-1 visas that are unaffected by the new rules.

USF has about 900 continuing international students, 350 of whom are outside the country. Since the university is offering a mix of in-person and online classes, its students have more wiggle room to remain in the country.

“International students make critical contributions to USF’s campus and we are committed to supporting them,” said Marcella Johanna Pitcher DeProto, director of USF’s International Student and Scholar Services. “We’re continuing to work with our higher education partners as well, to advocate for immigration policies that recognize the essential role that international students play on our campuses.”

A federal judge in Boston briefly heard the lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT and backed by CSU and USF on Friday, but deferred to another hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Colleges are required to certify students are taking in-person classes by Wednesday.


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