Earlier this week, the Trump administration issued new guidelines regarding international students and online courses this fall that would deport foreign students if their universities are not holding in-person classes this fall. In response, two of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions filed a lawsuit on Wednesday morning against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The lawsuit, which was filed in District Court in Boston on Monday, seeks to get a temporary restraining order, and a preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, that would inhibit ICE from enforcing the new federal guidelines preventing international students attending colleges and universities that are only offering online courses in the fall from staying in the country. The guidelines require students to transfer to an institution offering in-person instruction or risk, “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

In an email to affiliates, Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow explained that the university felt blindsided by the new federal guidelines and found them particularly cruel, writing, “The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.” He added, “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

Harvard and MIT state in the lawsuit: “ICE’s action proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities; the reliance of both students and universities on ICE’s statements that the preexisting exemptions would be ‘in effect for the duration of the emergency’ posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to this day; or the absence of other options for universities to provide their curricula to many of their international students.”

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Bacow vowed. 

DHS and ICE have not yet commented on the suit. 

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