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ICE Rescinds International Student Deportation Policy After Challenge by Universities

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By Ashley Ravid on July 20, 2020 9:15 AM

A lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT and later joined by over 200 universities has successfully turned back a newly announced policy by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would have revoked the visas of international students who were not taking in-person classes during the upcoming school year.

The suit's first hearing occurred last Tuesday, where lawyers for the Trump administration announced ICE was rescinding the policy, which was announced on July 6 to immediate and widespread backlash.

Order Created Uncertainty

Before the ICE retracted the deportation order, international students — over 1 million of whom may have been affected by the order — worried about the implications that it would have for their lives, even as schools promised to protect them. Many students feared being left in uncertain or unsafe housing situations, made worse by the difficulties many would face in returning to their home countries as restrictions tighten to slow the spread of COVID-19 from the United States.

Some well-meaning advocates criticized the ICE announcement by mentioning how much international students contribute to the economy, with one estimate putting it at over $44 billion in 2018 alone.

Other advocates for international students pushed back against this rhetoric, saying that international students who are pursuing an education in the United States shouldn't need to have a dollar value in order for them to not be unceremoniously booted out of the country in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

Trump vs. Higher Education

The ICE order came as more universities announced plans to commence the fall term using mainly or entirely online learning. College campuses are a possible hotbed of COVID-19 infection should in-person learning resume, leading many school administrations to choose socially distanced options for the fall — putting them at odds with the Trump administration.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently announced plans to have all schools resume fully in-person learning for the upcoming school year, against the advice of the CDC. Some schools that have opened in other countries have had to close again amid new waves of the coronavirus. Skeptics of DeVos's policy have noted that schools closed when infection rates across the United States were much lower than their current levels, prompting concern that a return to in-person classes will only worsen the spread of the virus.

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