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California sues Trump administration for telling foreign students: risk your health by attending classes or face deportation

Views from the Edge

California is the first state to sue the Trump administration for its latest attempt to limit entry of immigrants and visitors from other countries.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, and California State University Chancellor Timothy White Thursday (July 9)  announced the State of California is filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s policy that they say threatens to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and exile hundreds of thousands of college students studying in the United States through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

“With this lawsuit, California is standing up for the 21,000 international students who attend our community colleges and standing up for our right to continue teaching and learning in a safe and responsible way during the pandemic,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

The lawsuit by the Attorney General comes after the University of California announced its lawsuit against the federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.

California’s suit is also separate from the lawsuit filed Harvard, MIT and Northeastern University on Wednesday.

“To UC’s international students, I say: ‘We support you and regret the additional chaos ICE’s action has caused,’ ” said UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez.

More than 160,000 international students attend California colleges and universities, according to NAFSA, an association of international educators — including about 40,000 at UC.

UC Davis senior Kymberley Chu, who is Malaysian and studying international relations and anthropology, called forcing students to attend in-person classes or face deportation  malicious and inhumane. “It’s just saying, ‘I’m gonna kick out all these foreigners, despite the fact that they have ties and relationships, people, places and the things we’re doing,’” Chu said. “We already have lives here.”

The decision to strictly enforced the rule amidst a pandemic would affect students on F-1 academic visas and M-1 vocational education visas.

At a time when COVID-19 cases are surging across the state, immigration 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.

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 actions. It will also likely further burden educational institutions at a time when the state faces significant budget shortfalls and schools are already struggling to confront the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.

“Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well,” said Becerra. “President Trump appears set to do just that — amidst a global pandemic of historic proportions. Not on our watch. No one graduates more students from college or assembles a more talented and diverse group of future leaders than California. … We’ll see the Trump Administration in court.”

As the state with the largest university systems in the nation, California is committed to doing everything it can to protect hardworking people who have earned the right to study and contribute to our communities.

The Trump Administration’s shift in policy on SEVP flies directly in the face of guidance it previously issued and advertised as being in place for the duration of the pandemic emergency, which universities and students across the country relied upon to make plans for the upcoming school year and protect the safety and well-being of their students. 

Moreover, with new COVID-19 cases averaging more than 7,500 a day in California over the last week, the Trump Administration policy threatens to also turn California’s colleges and universities into “super-spreaders” of the disease.

“Students are experiencing extreme changes and obstacles in their education as a result of the pandemic, but now ICE is treating international students like political pawns and dictating educational choices and leveraging immigration status as a weapon,” said a statement from Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “This new move is another notch of cruelty in a long list of white supremacist policies targeting the immigrant community.”

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