Attorney General Becerra Seeks Court Order to Immediately Halt Unlawful Trump Administration Policy Threatening Health and Safety at Colleges and Universities During COVID-19
Policy would force schools to resume risky, in-person instruction as we witness a widening deadly pandemic or force the deportation of international students with visas if schools institute online instruction
Court order sought by California to block implementation of policy while litigation is ongoing
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the filing of a motion for a preliminary injunction to immediately block implementation of the Trump Administration’s unlawful policy on student visas while litigation is ongoing. If left in place, the policy could exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 on college campuses and exile hundreds of thousands of college students studying in the United States through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). At a time when COVID-19 cases are surging across the state, the policy requires international students to take classes in person — putting themselves, teachers, other students, and the community at large at risk of getting and spreading the coronavirus — or be subject to deportation. As the state with the largest education systems in the country and more than 180,000 international students, California has a profound stake in protecting the safety and well-being of its students, teachers, and communities across the state — especially at a time when schools are struggling to confront the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.
“Despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to downplay the coronavirus, this pandemic isn’t going to suddenly just disappear,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our students and schools need flexibility to tackle these challenges head on. This new Trump policy is a complete flip-flop from the guidance the Administration issued just four months ago on March 13 to protect students and college personnel. Beyond unlawful, this new policy is dangerous and morally reprehensible. State and local authorities are best positioned to determine how and when to re-open based on public health conditions. That’s why we’re seeking a preliminary injunction to put an immediate stop to this latest cruel attack on our students, communities and educational institutions.”
Prior to the pandemic, SEVP students were required to take the majority of their classes in person. On March 13, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees SEVP, issued guidance to exempt students from the program’s requirements in light of the ongoing pandemic and efforts by universities across the country to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. In its guidance, ICE declared that the exemptions would be in effect for the duration of the emergency. On July 6, 2020, in a drastic about-face and after many schools had already announced plans for the fall semester, ICE reversed course on that guidance and announced a policy that will disqualify students from SEVP for taking classes entirely online during the pandemic. For those enrolled in programs with no in-person classes available, ICE’s only guidance to students was to either leave the country or transfer to another program.
Beyond the myriad significant direct harms to individual students, the mission of California’s higher education institutions would suffer if international students are forced to disenroll because of the Trump Administration’s arbitrary and capricious actions. Universities and students across the country relied upon the March 13 guidance to plan for the upcoming school year.
Building on the lawsuit filed last week, this filing, among other things, demonstrates that the federal government:
- Failed to consider important aspects of the problem, including that the July 6 directive creates an unprecedented administrative burden on higher education institutions that schools must address in just a matter of weeks ahead of the new academic year;
- Blatantly ignored the evidence, turning a blind eye to the fact that since June 27 there has not been one day in which there were less than 40,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States; and
- Significantly departed from its previous policy, failing to sufficiently explain the about-face.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of people in California and across the country. Last week, he led a multistate lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempt to siphon pandemic relief funds away from K-12 public schools. Last month, the Attorney General filed suit to challenge the Trump Administration’s unlawful new rule that weakens protections for survivors of sexual violence in schools — and simultaneously forces schools to divert attention away from critical work being done to address the effects of COVID-19. He pushed back against the Trump Administration’s refusal to open a special enrollment period on HealthCare.Gov in response to the pandemic. Attorney General Becerra also helped secure a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Following the DACA decision, the Attorney General issued an alert in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese to help people across the state avoid immigration scams. Also in June, the California Department of Justice, on behalf of the California Community Colleges, secured a preliminary injunction against Secretary DeVos’ arbitrary and unlawful requirements to block pandemic relief from approximately 800,000 California community college students, including Dreamers.
A copy of the brief in support of a preliminary injunction is available here.