ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined a coalition of states filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that could threaten hundreds of international students from remaining in the U.S.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges the Trump administration’s cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”

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The suit seeks an injunction to stop the federal government from deporting the students.

“This reversal is a cruel attempt to throw hundreds of thousands of international students out of the country,” said Frosh. “The more than 20,000 international students attending universities in Maryland contribute $800 million every year to Maryland’s economy, $100 million to the University System, and support 9,500 jobs. This rule will further deepen the System’s financial losses due to COVID-19.”

The abrupt policy change by ICE reversed guidance that recognized COVID-19 as a public health emergency and provided flexibility for schools — allowing students on F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online.

On July 6, ICE announced international students couldn’t remain in the U.S. if they took their classes online. ICE then demanded higher education institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote classes in the fall.

Universities and colleges are limiting in-person instruction to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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“This guidance potentially disrupts the education of more than 5,300 F-1 visa-holding students enrolled at USM institutions, and undermines our universities’ efforts to reduce density on their campuses, an essential tool for inhibiting COVID-19 transmission,” said USM Chancellor Jay Perman. “We’re fighting to stop the implementation of rules that are capricious and cruel—rules that threaten the education of our international students, that effectively punish them without cause, and that jeopardize their safety and well-being. Maryland’s international students enrich the education of all of our students. Having domestic and international students learning together broadens our perspectives, challenges our thinking, deepens our global understanding, and connects us across countries and cultures. This is a foundational mission of higher education.”

The attorneys general say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in a number of ways:

  • Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
  • Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;
  • Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible;
  • Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees;
  • Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
  • Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.

The lawsuit also alleges the new rule imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy, a press release stated.

Today’s lawsuit also includes 40 declarations from a variety of institutions affected by the new rule, including the University System of Maryland (USM). The USM comprises 12 institutions: Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; the University of Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and the University of Maryland Global Campus. The USM also includes three regional centers—the Universities at Shady Grove, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland—at which USM universities offer upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses. Systemwide, student enrollment exceeds 172,000. The USM and its institutions compete successfully for nearly $1.5 billion in external grants and contracts annually.

Joining Maryland in filing the suit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.