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COVID-19 in Maryland Education Justice

Frosh Joins Multi-State Lawsuit in Support of International Students 

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) on Monday joined a multi-state lawsuit to protect foreign students from losing their visas.

Frosh will represent the State of Maryland and the University System of Maryland, the umbrella organization for 12 institutions, in a lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to block a new federal rule that does not allow students on F-1 and M-1 visas to remain in the country if they take a fully online course load in the fall.

On July 6, ICE suddenly reversed its decision issued on March 13, which permitted foreign students to attend remote classes while keeping their visa status during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Now, international students attending U.S colleges that are holding all of their courses online because of the pandemic cannot stay in the country, according to the new regulations.

On July 8, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts over the recent federal rule. Since then, 17 states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, joined the legal effort against what the state attorneys general call a “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”

This federal decision came in soon after colleges across the country announced their reopening plans that they have been working on for months, undermining their efforts to reduce density on campuses and protect the safety of their students according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“This reversal is a cruel attempt to throw hundreds of thousands of international students out of the country,” Frosh said in a statement.

Many international students contribute to the economy by residing in the country and going into fields such as science, technology, health care, business and finance after graduation. This federal rule undermines those economic benefits, the lawsuit claims.

“The more than 20,000 international students attending universities in Maryland contribute $800 million every year to Maryland’s economy, $100 million to the University System, and support 9,500 jobs. This rule will further deepen the System’s financial losses due to COVID-19,” Frosh stated.

ICE is also asking universities and colleges to inform the federal government whether they are offering entirely remote classes in the fall semester by July 15. In order to maintain visa status, educational institutions that will not be entirely online must update and reissue all F-1 visas by Aug. 14 to reflect that the international students’ coursework in the fall will either be in person or a hybrid of in-person and online learning.

The lawsuit further alleges that this new federal rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to give any explanation, input, or rationale about the reversed guidelines.

In the lawsuit, attorneys general say that the federal rule threatens their states by:

  • Failing to consider the health and safety of students, faculty and staff

  • Failing to consider the costs and administrative burden required to readjust plans and certify students

  • Failing to consider that remote learning in home countries is not possible for many international students

  • Imposing significant financial harm to schools, because international students make up the bulk of tuition dollars

  • Imposing harm on schools’ academic, extracurricular and cultural communities

  • Forcing colleges and universities to choose between in-person classes during a pandemic or losing a slew of international students who will have to leave the country, transfer or drop out of the school

 On July 10, Johns Hopkins University followed Harvard and MIT in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its new guidelines relating to international students. The suit alleges that the new federal guidelines violate the Administrative Procedure Act, due process and the constitutional protections for universities’ academic freedom.

The University System of Maryland announced on Monday that it will join other universities in seeking to block the new federal rule. The system has over 5,000 international students who are at risk of deportation since USM institutions have an online-only format for a significant number of their courses in the fall.

“This guidance potential disrupts the education of more than 5,300 F-1 visa-holding students enrolled in USM institutions, and undermines our universities’ efforts to reduce density on their campuses, an essential tool for inhibiting COVID-19 transmission,” University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in a statement.

International students contribute more than $125 million to USM institutions every year in tuition, housing and fees, a number that is even more significant now since the system has lost over $200 million from COVID-19 related costs, officials said.

“We’re fighting to stop the implementation of rules that are capricious and cruel — rules that threaten the education of our international students, that effectively punish them without cause, and that jeopardize their safety and well-being,” Perman said. “Maryland’s international students enrich the education of all of our students. Having domestic and international students learning together broadens our perspectives, challenges our thinking, deepens our global understanding, and connects us across countries and cultures. This is a foundational mission of higher education.”

Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey penned a letter last Thursday signed by about 100 congressional Democrats, urging leaders of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security to forgo the new policy. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin signed on to the letter.

The other states filing the suit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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Frosh Joins Multi-State Lawsuit in Support of International Students