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17 states sue Trump administration over rule that takes visas from international students

The attorneys general blasted what they called the government's "cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic."
Image: The nearly empty Georgetown University campus as classes were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic in Washington
The nearly empty Georgetown University campus with classes canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic in Washington on May 7, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Monday, seeking to halt a new federal rule that strips international students of their visas if their coursework is entirely online when classes resume in the fall.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, takes aim at what the 18 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."

The attorneys general behind the suit are seeking an injunction that would block the order from going into effect.

“The Trump administration didn't even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement announcing the suit.

The lawsuit, which names the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as defendants, is the latest legal challenge to the Trump administration's rule.

California filed suit against the federal government over the order last week, after Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology went to court with a suit of their own.

The rule has been criticized by states and educational institutions as a way to pressure colleges and universities to reopen their campuses with in-person classes during the pandemic. It comes as coronavirus cases are spiking in states across the country.

Under the directive, students on F-1 and M-1 visas "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status," Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement last week.

Those who violate the rules "may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings," the agency said.

The states behind the new lawsuit are collectively home to a combined 1,124 colleges and universities, which hosted approximately 373,304 international students in 2019, according to the filing. The international students contributed an estimated $14 billion to the economy that year, the filing says.

The legal action was jointly filed by attorneys general for Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.

A group of roughly 40 colleges and universities filed declarations in support of the lawsuit, including Yale, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Tufts and Rutgers.