(CMC) — New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a suit against the Trump administration for a sudden reversal in policy that threatens to deport more than a million international students, including many from the Caribbean, if they do not register for in-person classes at colleges and universities across New York.
James said the move is aimed at coercing schools into offering in-person instruction at the risk of increasing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) among students, faculty and other community members across New York and other states.
In the lawsuit filed against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in addition to the agencies’ respective leaders, James argues that ICE, just one week ago, announced a major policy reversal affecting almost every college and university in New York, and thousands more across the country, and that this reversal in policy threatens public health, students’ education and New York’s larger economy.
“International students should never be used as political fodder to force colleges to reopen their doors. But the President’s inability to remove politics from public health decisions endangers us all.
“The diversity of our colleges and universities is what makes New York schools among the world’s most competitive and most sought after. But President Trump’s reversal in policy not only threatens these innocent students’ educational paths but our state’s hard-hit economy and the public health of millions of New Yorkers.
“Schools should never have to choose between enrolling international students in in-person classes and maintaining public health, which is why we will use every legal tool at our disposal to stop the president,” James vowed.
She noted that when COVID-19 first began to spread rapidly across the country, New York state and every other state in the nation issued states of emergency with every college and university in the state closing their doors.
She said most of New York’s postsecondary institutions devoted significant resources towards continuing the education of millions of students while safeguarding the public health by shifting to remote teaching and learning “implementing measures to keep school campuses safe and diverting limited financial resources to the COVID-19 response”.
In mid-March, James noted that President Donald Trump also declared a national state of emergency and approved US federal disaster declarations for all 50 states and almost all territories.
She said the United States went from a handful of reported COVID-19 cases to more than 3.3 million confirmed infections and more than 135,000 confirmed deaths as a direct result of the disease, including more than 401,000 confirmed infections in New York and just under 25,000 confirmed deaths in the state as a direct result of the disease.
Further, James said schools will be required to issue new I-20 forms (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) for millions of students by August 4, this year.
She noted that ICE’s reversal comes despite the fact that infection rates are “exponentially higher” compared to when ICE initially issued its “emergency” student visa waiver in mid-March.
In Monday’s lawsuit and motion for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order, James is seeking to immediately halt the Trump administration from moving forward with a reversal of the March waiver, arguing that the new directive “callously ignores and runs counter to prevailing public health guidelines calling for sustained social distancing and tailored re-opening plans of only the most essential activities”.
Additionally, James is contending “ICE’s rash and ill-informed decision to promote school re-openings not only endangers the public health but also threatens the immigration status of the more than 100,000 international students who study in New York state each year”.
She said New York City has a higher number of international students than any other city in America and that New York has the second highest number of international students from all states.
She said the Trump directive would force schools to either immediately and haphazardly reconfigure their fall 2020 course offerings in a matter of days, or risk international students being dis-enrolled.
“Implementing ICE’s directive will drain and divert New York’s limited educational resources, hinder the state’s effective administration and enforcement of its own COVID-19 policies, result in millions in lost tuition and revenue for the state’s economy, and jeopardise the health and safety of all New Yorkers — on and off campuses,” James said.
She said forcing New York to open in-person classes “means residents of other states — many with infection rates still spiking — would also return to New York and risk causing a resurgence here”.
Attorney General James specifically argues in the lawsuit that ICE’s reversal of its March policy is “arbitrary and capricious,” and was issued without observance to procedures required by law, in violation of the Administrative and Procedure Act.
Last Wednesday, Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D Clarke strongly condemned the Trump administration’s threat to deport international students, including Caribbean nationals, whose universities transition to online-only learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.