Iowa City is among the more than 200 universities and communities across the nation backing a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s new restrictions on international students, arguing the policy jeopardizes student safety and forces schools to reconsider fall plans they have spent months preparing.
The presidents of Iowa’s public universities also appealed Monday to the state’s congressional delegation for help. But Iowa’s state government declined to get involved.
Scores of schools, cities and counties have signed court briefs supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as they sue U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal court in Boston.
The lawsuit challenges a directive saying that international students cannot stay in the United States if they take all their fall classes online.
The University of Iowa plans to welcome students back this fall to the Iowa City campus with most classes being in-person, but with larger lectures delivered online only. However, the UI plans to switch to all online classes and final exams after Thanksgiving out of concern about students traveling in the coronavirus pandemic.
“In addition to the harm the new rule will cause to the city, Iowa City joined the brief to support the many international students that call our community home and the right of the University of Iowa to make judgments about whether reopening in the fall is safe and educationally advisable without jeopardizing the status of its international students,” the city of Iowa City said in a statement.
On Monday, presidents of the regent universities wrote of their “deep concerns.”
“As the presidents of the state’s Regents institutions, we stand with the more than 6,000 international students across our campuses. These talented and dedicated students represent more than 120 nationalities and contribute to the richness and vitality of our campus communities,” their letter to Iowa’s congressional delegation said.
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However, the regents appeared to not have submitted a friend-of-the-court brief like Iowa City did to challenge the policy. Asked about such a court filing. regents spokesman Josh Lehman replied in a statement that “our universities will continue to make every effort to support our international students as they continue to pursue higher education.”
A judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in the case brought by Harvard and MIT. If the judge does not suspend the rule, colleges will have until Wednesday to notify ICE if they plan to be fully online this fall.
The Department of Homeland Security and ICE say the new policy is backed by existing law forbidding foreign students from taking all of their classes online. ICE suspended the rule in March in response to the pandemic, but the agency told universities it was subject to change.
Universities argue, however, that coronavirus cases in the United States have surged since March and the policy limits options for keeping students safe.
The ruling, if enforced, also could hurt colleges financially. International students typically pay the highest tuition rates and seldom are eligible for scholarships.
The Democratic attorneys general of 17 states also filed a lawsuit Monday against the policy.
The list of states — New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin as well as the District of Columbia — does not include Iowa.
In 2019, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature tried to limit Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller from joining other states’ lawsuits or signing on to friend-of-the-court briefs without permission.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed that measure on the proviso that Miller obtain her permission first.
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Asked Monday whether that was why Miller did not join the suit or press a case for the regents, a spokesman for the office said “yes.”
“We requested the governor’s consent but she declined,” Attorney General’s Office spokesman Lynn Hicks said.
The Associated Press and Rod Boshart and Vanessa Miller of The Gazette contributed.