Tufts Supports International Students in Face of ICE Rule

The university files amicus brief in support of lawsuit opposing new rule that forces international students to leave the U.S. if they take all their classes online
An aerial photo of Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, with the Boston skyline in the background. Tufts files amicus brief in support of lawsuit opposing new rule that forces international students to leave the U.S. if they take all their classes online
“The university is opposed to any policy that forces our students out of the country due to changes made to our curriculum and programs in response to COVID-19,” President Anthony Monaco said. Photo: Alonso Nichols
July 13, 2020

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Tufts University has joined an amicus brief with several other institutions opposing the efforts of the Trump administration to restrict international students’ ability to enter or remain in the U.S. if all their classes are online this fall.

The lawsuit, filed by Harvard and MIT, is being heard by Judge Allison D. Burroughs of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. An initial hearing took place on July 10 and a second hearing is slated for Tuesday, July 14.

[Editor’s note: On July 14, the Trump administration rescinded the ICE rule from July 6 and reinstated a policy from March that gave international students the right to take all-online only courses and be in the U.S. legally.]  

The guidance issued late in the afternoon on July 6 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would require international students with F-1 visas whose classes are “online only” in the fall to “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.” The rule would take effect in August.

“The university is opposed to any policy that forces our students out of the country due to changes made to our curriculum and programs in response to COVID-19,” President Anthony Monaco said in a message to the Tufts community on July 8. “It is a policy that seemingly ignores the impact of COVID-19 and the measures that Tufts and other colleges and universities have been forced to take to address the health crisis in our country.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and sixteen other state attorneys general have also filed a lawsuit to stop the order from taking effect. Tufts has joined in that effort as well by submitting a declaration of support, explaining the detrimental effects the new rule will have on the university and its students.

Students are deeply concerned by the announcement, said Andrew Shiotani, director of the International Center at Tufts. The university “is working internally and with outside partners to develop effective strategies to protect our students and to preserve their ability to pursue their education,” Shiotani said. “It is a complex situation, and an evolving one. It’s understandable that it is creating a lot of anxiety,” he added.

In the 2019-2020 school year, approximately 15 percent of all students at the university were international students, according to Shiotani. Some schools have more international students than others: The Fletcher School, a graduate school of international affairs, boasts international enrollment of nearly 40 percent. 

“The guidance issued by ICE provokes extreme anxiety and adds stress to what is already a difficult moment as we continue to adjust to remote instruction and work with students to build their careers amid unprecedented economic dislocation resulting from the pandemic,” said Fletcher School Dean Rachel Kyte.

“As I noted in my message to students following the issuance of the preliminary guidance, which appears punitive, at Fletcher we are one community, and international students are vibrant threads in our carefully woven fabric,” she said.

The International Center is hosting a series of online Town Halls regarding the new rule. Two have already been held for students on July 8 and 9. The International Center plans to hold additional Town Halls during the weeks of  July 13 and July 20 to provide students with updates on the new rule as additional guidance and court decisions become available.

“We are committed to . . . advocating for the members of our international community in this moment of uncertainty,” said Monaco. “I want our international students to know: We support you, we’re here for you, and you are an important part of our community.”

For more information, the university has created an FAQ page for students and others, which will be regularly updated.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.