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Press Releases

Attorney General William Tong

07/13/2020

CT Joins Lawsuit Seeking Nationwide Injunction Against New Visa Rule for International Students

New Rule is a Dramatic and Illegal Reversal from Previous Guidance; Imposes Significant Harms on Students, Schools and Economy

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges what the attorneys general call the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.” Today’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the rule from going into effect nationwide.

Today’s lawsuit also includes 40 declarations from a variety of institutions affected by the new rule, including Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, University of Connecticut, and Yale University.

“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. 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,” said Attorney General Tong.

“The fact that the administration took this action during the middle of a pandemic – using a national health emergency to further alienate people they can define as the 'other' is 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. 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,” said Connecticut State Colleges & University President Mark Ojakian.

"Yale is honored to work with the Connecticut Attorney General to support the state’s effort, alongside those of other states, to challenge the DHS policy in court. This ill-considered decision by the federal government must not go unchallenged: there is too much at stake for our international students, for the universities like Yale that welcome them, and for the country, which benefits so much from their contributions to scientific breakthroughs, medical care, economic growth—and our very understanding of the world," said Yale University President Peter Salovey.

“International students come to Connecticut to fulfill their educational dreams. This ICE directive is an attack on our institutional values and targets members of the community that are a long way from home and particularly vulnerable. It also sends a signal to young people all over the world that they are not welcome in the United States. The ICE directive is mean spirited and intended to cause harm. It is also deeply un-American,” said Daniel Weiner, University of Connecticut Vice President for Global Affairs.

“The Graduate Employee Union at UConn, GEU-UAW LOCAL 6950, commends Attorney General Tong for taking action against this harmful policy. Filing and signing onto this lawsuit demonstrates support of student workers at UConn and across the nation who stand to be harmed by SEVP’s dangerous and xenophobic policy,” said Jordan McMillan, President of GEU-UAW Local 6950.

Today’s 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.

ICE further demanded 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 August 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. This demand comes not only amidst an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff, and students are 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 details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleges 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 say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens 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 skillsets; and
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 alleges the new rule imposes 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.

The lawsuit is 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.

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Media Contact:

Elizabeth Benton
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