An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Both lawsuits argue that the ICE directive was "arbitrary and capricious" in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. They allege that officials issued the order abruptly with no specific warning or opportunity for public comment and failed to provide a reasoned explanation for it or consider the havoc it would create.
Immigration rules generally require that international students can take no more than one class, or three credits, online in order to qualify for visas. ICE lifted that rule March 13, when President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, and allowed students to stay even if their classes went fully online. But immigration authorities changed course with the new order.
The UC lawsuit notes that international students may not be able to continue their education from their home countries because of time zone differences, internet access and other barriers.
UC students from Syria, Somalia and Yemen, for instance, would face civil war and ongoing humanitarian crises that would make internet access and study "all but impossible." Those from Ethiopia would be hampered by a current government suspension of internet access. At least one student hails from North Korea, "a country notorious for its repression of its citizens and the suppression of the free flow of information" where pursuing education may expose them to personal danger, the lawsuit asserts.
"Under any circumstance, the manner and suddenness by which ICE announced and intends to implement its new policy would be shocking in a system that champions the rule of law and public input on agency rules before they are finalized," the lawsuit argues. "That the about-face comes against the backdrop of a worsening public health crisis in this country makes it not only unlawful, but cruel and dangerous."
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