Boston/Kansas City: Foreign students ready to attend college in the U.S. are being turned away by a government ban on visas for those whose classes are online only, a lawyer for Harvard University told a judge weighing its request to freeze the new policy.
“Quite honestly, your honor, we are getting flooded with inquiries and requests because of the policies being enforced at the borders as we speak,” Bill Lee said on Thursday at an online conference over a lawsuit Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed against the government on Wednesday. California later announced that it, too, was suing over the new rules.
Lee cited the example of a Harvard student he said is a citizen of Belarus and was barred from returning to the U.S., turned away at an airport in Minsk on Wednesday. Lee said the student attended the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school in Massachusetts for three years before entering Harvard as a freshman.
“He lost his ticket,” Lee told U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, who ruled for Harvard last year in a case alleging it discriminates against Asian-Americans in admissions. “He doesn’t know quite what to do.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, issued the rules Monday, barring visas for applicants studying at colleges offering only virtual instruction. Students on existing visas who want to remain in the U.S. must transfer to a school with in-person instruction or attend an institution that offers both remote and on-campus learning, according to ICE.
Colleges have begun rolling out pandemic plans for the fall semester, with many offering some form of limited in-person classes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Harvard said about 40% of students would return to its campus in Cambridge, while all courses will be taught remotely.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday announced the state was filing its own lawsuit challenging the new rules.
“As the state with the largest university system in the nation, California is committed to doing everything it can to protect hardworking people who have earned the right to study and contribute to our communities,” his office said in a statement.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement Wednesday that the new policy appeared to have been designed “purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”
Burroughs asked the government on Thursday whether it would agree to a 14-day temporary restraining order on enforcing the new guidelines as it prepares its response to Harvard’s suit against the rules.
Rayford Farquhar, appearing on behalf of ICE, said he had to consult with his client. He added that the U.S. was open to discussing a resolution of the matter.
“I know this was done above your pay grade,” Burroughs said, but “the time pressure on this has been created by the government.”
She said if ICE won’t agree to the temporary hold, it will have to defend the rules at a hearing next week. Harvard’s Lee suggested a possible course of action — skipping the temporary order and setting an accelerated schedule to consider a preliminary injunction, a longer-lasting freeze.
The judge told the parties to reconvene Friday morning.- Bloomberg