Pummeled by lawsuits from California, the University of California, the University of Southern California, 20 states, and and scores of colleges and universities, the Trump Administration yesterday abruptly backed off its policy revoking visas for foreign students who take classes online only.
The decision, made without an official announcement and a rare policy reversal for an Administration that normally just doubles down in the face of criticism and lawsuits, was hailed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Golden State higher education leaders.
But they also suggested that continued litigation over the matter remains possible.
Becerra, who sued the Trump Administration on behalf of California Community Colleges and the Cal State System, said in a statement:
“The Trump Administration appears to have seen the harm of its July 6 directive, but it shouldn’t take lawsuits and widespread outcry for them to do their job. In the midst of an economic and public health crisis, we don’t need the federal government alarming Americans or wasting everyone’s time and resources with dangerous policy decisions. President Trump’s arbitrary actions put the health and safety of our students and communities across the country at risk. We’ll continue doing our part to ensure his Administration follows the rule of law.”
In hailing the decision, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley hinted at more legal maneuverings, saying.“We are pleased to see the change in direction that ICE announced. We remain cautious about the intentions of ICE and the Trump administration as it relates to international students, and we will continue to pursue further clarification and protections for all of our students.”
Oakley said he didn’t want to withdraw the lawsuit because the Trump Administration is tumultuous and “we’re waiting to see what they do next.”
Similarly, in a statement University of California Board of Regents Chair John Pérez and President Janet Napolitano deemed the reversal “a win for common sense and public health” but said “we will continue to pursue further clarification and protections for all of our students.”
Along the same lines, CSU spokesperson Toni Molle called the decision a “welcome measure” but said that there are “ are still outstanding questions related to new students, and it is our hope that forthcoming clarification will maintain opportunities for those students. We continue to review for potential impacts, and as we gain more clarity will share additional guidance.”
The government’s about face came to light at a federal court hearing in Boston yesterday on a lawsuit that Harvard University and MIT had filed against the Trump Administration over the policy.
The government had previously required students who get foreign visas to take at least some of their courses online. At the start of the pandemic the Trump Administration changed the policy to authorize virtual learning for foreign students enrolled at American universities. But on July 6 ICE announced its intention to bar international students from staying in the country if they attend U.S. universities that offer only online courses, as California Globe reported.
At the court hearing yesterday United States District Judge Allison Burroughs said the government and the schools had reached an agreement that would essentially settle the lawsuit. “The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020, policy directive” and return to the “status quo” of March, she said.
Harvard and MIT sued the government two days after the policy was enacted.
Becerra filed his own lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security the next day.
“In addition to being cruel, Defendants’ attempt at a policy change to force in-person learning in the middle of a pandemic is absurd and the essence of arbitrary and capricious conduct in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act,” Becerra’s claim stated.