HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Connecticut leaders joined those from other states to seek a nationwide injunction against the Trump Administration's new visa rule.
Monday afternoon, Gov. Ned Lamont joined Attorney General William Tong, and leaders and students from Connecticut colleges and universities, to voice opposition to the Trump Administration's policy.
Tong said he joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to stop it. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It challenges what they called “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”
Last week, the White House said international students would not be allowed to stay in the U.S. if their college moved to an online-only format as a result of COVID-19.
Student visas will be revoked.
Connecticut leaders called the policy cruel and unnecessary.
“We are asking the court to block this cruel and unlawful rule from imperiling the education of thousands of international students in Connecticut who contribute greatly to the academic, cultural, and economic strength of their universities and the state of Connecticut," Tong said in a statement. "The Trump Administration abruptly reversed its previous guidance with zero explanation or rationale, with complete disregard for the dire public safety consequences in the midst of a raging pandemic. Universities must be free to make decisions about the health and safety of their students, faculty and staff without fear of arbitrary and punitive immigration consequences."
Connecticut State Colleges and Universities president Mark Ojakian called the rule an abhorrent betrayal of the role of government.
"International students are part of our community. They make our colleges and universities stronger. In many cases they go on to live, work, and raise a family in Connecticut," Ojakian siad. "I am proud to stand here today and to fight on their behalf. We are fortunate to live in a state that will stand strong against this wrongheaded, cowardly, and illegal action by the federal administration.”
The lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency, provided flexibility for schools, and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. On July 6, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the United States and take all of their classes online during the pandemic, upending months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning and adapt their coursework for the fall semester, and leaving thousands of students with no other choice but to leave the country.
"Tomorrow morning, Connecticut will be in a federal court seeking a preliminary injunction in Massachusetts and we are going to fight this tooth and nail," said William Tong, CT Attorney General.
ICE further demanded, according to the attorneys general, that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester, and to certify by Aug. 4 for each of the institutions’ international students that the student’s upcoming coursework this fall will be in person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status. They said the demand came not only amidst an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff, and students were not on campus and may not even be in the country. Students may not even have registered for their classes for the fall and schools and individual teaching staff members may not yet have determined whether their classes will be held remotely, in person, or a combination.
The lawsuit detailed the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleged that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale – in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act – and failed to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The attorneys general said the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatened their states in a number of ways:
- Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.
- Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students.
- Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible.
- Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees.
- Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skill sets.
- Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.
The lawsuit also alleged the new rule imposed significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.
Bryan Chong's education dream could soon be shattered. If the rule goes into effect, he would no longer be a senior at Wesleyan University. He would have to return to Hong Kong and take classes online.
"For me personally, I am leaving a life that I have built here. I am leaving behind friends that I have made that I hoped I would be able to stay in touch with for life," Chong said.
The lawsuit was led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.