California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) sued the Trump administration Thursday, seeking to block a rule that would require international students to take classes in person this fall, despite increasing coronavirus cases.
“Right now is the worst time to enforce such a policy,” Becerra said, with just weeks to go before the start of the school year and cases spiking in California.
Earlier this week, the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that visas would not be issued to students in schools that plan to teach classes fully online this fall. Those students would be barred from entering the country, and students already in the United States would need to leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to keep their visas.
The rule has not been published yet, but the guidance issued Monday blindsided university officials who had expected federal immigration authorities to continue flexibility put in place this spring. International students had been required to take classes in person, but when the pandemic shut down most campuses, the government had allowed students to continue their studies online — and said the new guidance would remain in effect for the duration of the emergency.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, argues that California, with more than 184,000 international students, is disproportionately impacted by the order. Becerra was joined by school leaders from California State University and California Community Colleges.
On Thursday, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University filed a lawsuit challenging the rule on similar grounds.
California officials described students unable to afford travel back to their home countries, frightened by the prospect of attending classes in person during a pandemic and unable to reach consular officials for advice.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said the agency cannot comment because of pending litigation.