Statement on ICE Policy Regarding International Students

July 14, 2020

UPDATE: ICE has rescinded its new regulations for F-1 visa holders read more in the Washington Post

Dear WCL Community:

As you are aware, on Monday July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it was rescinding its March 13, 2020 guidance that had allowed international students holding F-1 visas to take all of their classes online and remain in the United States. The March 13, 2020 guidance was adopted “given the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency.” If unchallenged, the July 6, 2020 announcement would require all international students to attend a university that provides at least hybrid instruction (that is, some portion of the instruction in person and some on-line), and, further, that each international student have at least one in-person course.

Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an emergency, especially in the United States, where each day brings record numbers of newly infected people (now at 3.7 million people) and an increasing number of deaths (currently over 137,000).  But even though the emergency plainly continues, ICE has decided, with no warning and even less justification, to require in-person instruction as a condition of international students remaining in this country.  This inhumane policy will cause untold suffering for and needless disruption of the lives of our international students.  It requires universities to expend resources needlessly and set up procedures under unreasonable deadlines to certify student compliance with the policy, all with fall classes beginning in many parts of the country within the next six weeks.

As a law school that has a long history of and commitment to high-quality international legal education and fighting discrimination in all its forms, WCL opposes such measures in the strongest possible terms. The change in policy not only hurts our international students, but our entire law school community.  International students enrich our learning experience in untold ways by sharing their perspectives and views in and outside of the classroom. They are part of who we are:  a community that values diversity and inclusion and understands that we are all one human family regardless of our ethnic, racial, national, and religious affiliations.

The ICE guidance is short sighted and ill-conceived.  It not only reflects ongoing hostility toward people from other countries but is a crude attempt to force universities to open up more fully, notwithstanding their concerns about the health and safety of their students, faculty, and staff.  This guidance does not even make sense from a purely economic point of view as international students contribute approximately $41 billion dollars to the U.S. economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Left unchecked, the policy could cause many international students to throw up their hands and take their considerable talents elsewhere.

WCL and American University, and the higher education community at large, are responding forcefully to the Administration’s unreasonable and ill-considered policy.  Under the leadership of Professor Padideh Ala’i and her colleagues, we are creating a one-credit required course for international students that will satisfy ICE’s requirement that all international students have at least one in-person class. American University’s President Sylvia Burwell has joined other university presidents in making a statement denouncing the ICE policy. The University has signed on with 58 other universities to an amicus curiae brief in the case Harvard and MIT have filed against DHS in US District Court in Massachusetts.  The judge in the case has scheduled a hearing on July 15.  In addition to the Harvard/MIT litigation, at least three other lawsuits have been filed, including one filed by 17 states and the District of Columbia, one by the University of California system, and one by seven international students studying in California. The amicus curiae brief in the Harvard/MIT case argues persuasively that ICE’s action in rescinding the March 13, 2020 guidance is arbitrary and capricious. Indeed, the Administration's action is the very embodiment of this legally consequential term.

WCL stands with our international students.

Robert Dinerstein
Acting Dean