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80+ Lawmakers Demand Trump Rescind Plan to Force International Students Out

The measure could affect hundreds of thousands of students whose universities have paused in-person classes.

A MIT custodian with her cleaning cart walks past MIT students during an MIT international student demonstration on March 12, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

More than 80 members of Congress late Thursday demanded that the Trump administration immediately withdraw a “cruel, senseless, and xenophobic” directive that would strip international college students of their visas to study in the U.S. if their fall coursework is moved entirely online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Issued earlier this week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the measure could affect hundreds of thousands of students whose universities have paused in-person classes to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Under the new rule, students currently out of the country would be denied visas to enter the U.S. if their universities are not offering only in-person classes[,] and students already in the country would be required to leave or face deportation.

The directive was swiftly met with legal challenges from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the state of California.

In their letter (pdf) Thursday, House and Senate lawmakers raised concern that “ICE’s guidance is motivated not by public health considerations, but rather by animus toward immigrants, by a goal of forcing schools to reopen even as Covid-19 cases are rising, and by a desire to create an illusion of normalcy during this unprecedented public health emergency.”

The letter was signed by dozens of prominent members of Congress, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The lawmakers condemned the Trump administration over what they described as an attempt to “use noncitizens as political pawns in order to financially coerce colleges and universities to reopen campuses this fall, despite what is best for public health.”

“ICE’s arbitrary new policy is irrational and xenophobic, and risks the health of students, faculty, and staff,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to rescind this proposed policy immediately and to collaborate productively with institutions of higher education to enable a smooth start to the academic year for all students.”

The letter came amid President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ aggressive push to resume in-person classes across the U.S. in the fall despite warnings from teachers, parents, and public health experts that doing so without a concrete safety plan in place could endanger students and faculty.

“If Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have proven anything over the past four years, it’s that they do not care about students,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement Tuesday. “They have zero credibility for how to best support students, and how to re-open classrooms safely.”

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