Harvard, MIT sue US government over new ICE rule for international students

Harvard University and MIT are suing the Department of Homeland Security over a new ICE rule that makes international students leave the U.S. if they're enrolled at colleges that will be online in the fall because of coronavirus, the schools announced on Wednesday.

"By all appearances, ICE's decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes," Harvard wrote in a press release. "The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible."

Harvard and MIT filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order on the new rule, saying it violates the Administrative Procedures Act. The schools allege ICE's guidance, issued on Monday, "fails to offer any reasonable basis that could justify the policy" and "failed to provide the public with notice and the opportunity to comment on this rulemaking."

"US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students will not be allowed to stay in the country if they attend institutions, like Harvard, that are holding courses online this fall," Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote in a letter to Harvard students. "Their choices are either to transfer to another institution that provides in-person or hybrid (both in-person and online) instruction — or to depart the country and risk not being able to return. Those students who fail to comply with this guidance may face deportation."

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf responded to the suit during an appearance on "Mornings with Maria" on Wednesday.

RELATED: ICE: International exchange students taking all online courses due to COVID-19 can’t remain in US

"We wanted to make sure as we went into fall session students and universities understood rules of the road," Wolf said. "If you're taking 100 percent of your classes online, your presence isn't required here in the U.S. to do that. ... We're giving them the opportunity to take up to three classes online."

MIT President L. Rafael Reif said the rule "jeopardizes" international students' academics and research.

"ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented," Reif said in a statement. "And the guidance comes after many US colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall – decisions designed to advance their educational mission and protect the health and safety of their communities."

Read Harvard and MIT's filing here.

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