July 10 (UPI) -- California is suing the Trump administration over its new policy requiring international students to take in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic, or face deportation -- arguing that it violates rules by which federal agencies issue regulations.
Early this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that students on non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 visas who attend universities amid the pandemic may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.
The policy has been met with criticism for being xenophobic, and Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a joint lawsuit on Wednesday seeking a temporary or permanent restraining order, stating its intended purpose is to force secondary education facilities to stay open.
"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," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday.
"In addition to being cruel, [the administration's] attempt at a policy change to force in-person learning in the middle of a pandemic is absurd and the essence of arbitrary and capricious conduct," the 23-page suit states. "If that were not enough, [it has] failed to follow the procedures for notice and comment rulemaking required by [law] prior to enforcing and implementing this policy."
The suit says the new policy forces students to either "leave their lives in the United States" or transfer to a school with more in-person classes.
"If the students leave the United States, they would be required to pay for expensive travel arrangements amid the pandemic -- made more difficult given the limited international travel options currently available -- and take the public health risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus by traveling to their home country," the lawsuit states.
The legal challenge says the administration's policy also undermines decisions to continue remote learning by pressuring California universities to offer additional in-person classes "to avoid losing the contributions of tens of thousands of international students who are valuable members of their academic and research communities."
ICE also failed to take proper notice procedures and informed the public just a few weeks before schools open, creating "chaos" for both students and schools, the suit states.
"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.
Nearly 100 Senate and House Democrats sent a letter this week to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security urging the agencies to withdraw the new policy.
"We call out this policy for what it is: a cruel, senseless and xenophobic attempt to use non-citizens as political pawns in order to financially coerce colleges and universities to reopen campuses this fall, despite what is best for public health," the lawmakers wrote. "This policy is dangerous to the health and well-being of numerous communities."