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Harvard, MIT sue Trump government over expulsion of foreign students

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Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration Wednesday over an order that would require international students to take classes in person this fall, despite rising coronavirus caseloads that are complicating efforts by colleges and universities to offer in-person learning.

The lawsuit represented a swift response to an unexpected order issued this week by the federal government, as universities rush to protect the status of thousands of international students. It also marks a new battle line in the war between President Trump and education leaders over how to safely reopen schools in the midst of his reelection bid.

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students — and international students at institutions across the country — can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, told the Harvard community Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Northeastern University in Massachusetts joined the suit, with Joseph E. Aoun, the school’s president, saying the new guidance “creates chaos for international students and has the effect of weakening American higher education — one of our nation’s signature strengths.”

On Monday, the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that visas would not be issued to students enrolled in schools that are fully online this fall. Under the rule, those students would be barred from entering the country. And to keep their visas, students already in the United States would need to leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction.

The rule has not been published yet, but the guidance issued Monday stunned university officials and panicked students. Though international students were previously required to take classes in person, the government had offered schools and students flexibility this spring, after the pandemic shut down most campuses. And it had said that the new guidance would remain in effect for the duration of the emergency.

So as university officials worked to finalize fall plans, many assumed that their international students would be allowed in the country even if they weren’t in the classroom. With cases rising across the country, most colleges are at least prepared to switch to fully virtual instruction if needed. Others, including Harvard and the sprawling California State University System, have already announced plans to offer little to no in-person instruction.

Harvard has about 5,000 international students, and MIT 4,000. In their lawsuit, the universities argue that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s decision was designed to force universities to conduct in-person classes, part of an apparent political strategy from the Trump administration to pressure schools, from kindergarten to graduate school, to fully reopen this fall, even as virus cases soar.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, seeks a temporary restraining order that would quickly stop the government from enforcing the policy. The schools argue that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs rulemaking by federal agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for ICE, said the agency “is unable to provide further comment due to pending litigation.”

The lawsuit cites remarks from acting deputy secretary of homeland security Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday, in which he said the directive “will … encourage schools to reopen.”

The decision also reflects the administration’s continued efforts to limit and reduce the presence of international students in the country, the lawsuit argues.

The Trump administration contends the new policy will provide more flexibility for colleges and universities. Cuccinelli indicated Tuesday that international students could remain in the United States as long as they receive at least some face-to-face instruction.

“Anything short of 100 percent online classes,” he told  an interview. Cuccinelli denied that the administration was seeking to “force” universities to offer in-person teaching. But he acknowledged that the administration wants to spur movement in that direction. “This is now setting the rules for one semester, which we’ll finalize later this month that will, again, encourage schools to reopen,” he told.

The ICE ruling frightened international students, who worried they risked deportation if their schools were not providing classes in person.

“That’s horrifying — I couldn’t sleep,” said Mita Rawal, who’s studying pharmacology at the University of Georgia. “It’s not just me, it’s my son, he goes to school here. If I had to pack up my bags and go to Nepal,” she said, and then broke off.

She had already been through a tumultuous spring and summer, with a sudden need for a computer for her own studies and a secondhand laptop for her 5-year-old son’s schooling, paid for with the help of an emergency grant from a nonprofit. Her dissertation was put on hold, and she was unable to travel home for the summer.

And then news broke from ICE. “I had not anticipated in my wildest dreams that I would be in this situation,” she said.

Outraged faculty are mobilizing to defend international students. Some are brainstorming ways to work around the administration’s policy, creating makeshift classes for international students.

Dana R. Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, said she woke up Wednesday to 25 emails from terrified students. She had fielded even more frantic emails the day before. On Twitter, she offered an independent-study course to any student who needs to take an in-person class this semester. Dozens are interested, she said.

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750 killed at Ethiopian Orthodox church said to contain Ark of the Covenant: report

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Around 750 people were killed in an attack on an Orthodox church, which is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, in northern Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region — home to thousands of churches and monasteries — according to reports.

Hundreds of people hiding in Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum amid an armed conflict were brought out and shot to death, and local residents believe the aim was to take the Ark of Covenant to Addis Ababa, the Belgium-based nonprofit European External Programme with Africa reported in this month’s situational report, released on Jan. 9.

“The number of people killed is reported as 750,” it said. The church, the most ancient and sacred of Ethiopian Christianity and also known as the Church of St. Mary of Zion, belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

“I’ve not heard more than rumours about the looting of the Arc from Maryam Tsion, but if it’s true that up to 750 died defending it, it is conceivable that the attackers didn’t stop there,” said Michael Gervers, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, according to The Telegraph.

“The government and the Eritreans want to wipe out the Tigrayan culture. They think they’re better than rest of the people in the country. The looting is about destroying and removing the cultural presence of Tigray,” Gervers explained.

Former BBC World Service Africa editor and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Martin Plaut, said that those who escaped the Aksum massacre had reported that the attack began after Ethiopian federal troops and Amhara militia approached the church, the U.K.’s Church Times reported.

“People were worried about the safety of the Ark, and when they heard troops were approaching feared they had come to steal it. All those inside the cathedral were forced out into the square,” Plaut was quoted as saying.

About 1,000 people were believed to be in the church complex at the time of the attack. The EEPA said the massacre was carried out by Ethiopian federal troops and allied Amhara militia that are fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The church and and the Ark have likely not been damaged, Plaut added.

The fighting began in Tigray since Nov. 4 when the region’s ruling political party Tigray People’s Liberation Front captured the Northern Command army base in the regional capital Mekelle as part of an uprising, after which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive. Abiy claimed on Nov. 28 that the Ethiopian National Defense Force had regained “full command” of Mekelle.
Sources:Christian Post

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Charges dropped against deacon arrested for singing hymns outdoors

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A court has dismissed all charges against a church deacon who was one of the three arrested last September for singing while not wearing a mask at a “psalm sing” outdoor worship service held in Moscow City, Idaho.

The Idaho District Court dropped charges against Gabriel Rench in the case State of Idaho v. Gabriel Rench. The deacon was arrested at an event hosted by Christ Church and held outside City Hall in response to the extension of a COVID-19-prompted mask mandate imposed by Moscow’s mayor at the time, the law firm Thomas More Society, which represented the church, said.

“We had done the Psalm sing in the past under the same [mask] resolution and we weren’t arrested, we weren’t warned … we were just taking our constitutional liberties to do what we’re allowed to do under the Constitution — worship,” Rench said, referring to the event that was attended by about 200 people.

The city of Moscow, “appears to have been so anxious to make an example of Christ Church’s opposition to their desired COVID restrictions that they failed to follow the mandatory exemptions articulated in their own laws,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Michael Jacques noted.

“The Moscow City Code allows the Mayor to issue public health emergency orders, but exempts ‘[a]ny and all expressive and associative activity that is protected by the United States and Idaho Constitutions, including speech, press, assembly, and/or religious activity,’” Jacques explained. “Mr. Rench and the other worshipers who were arrested had their constitutionally protected liberties violated and their lives disrupted — not only by the inappropriate actions of law enforcement officers, but also by city officials who did not immediately act to correct this unlawful arrest.”

After Rench and others were arrested in September, the church wrote on its Facebook page: “Yesterday Christ Church sponsored a flash psalm sing at city hall. We were going to appear there at quarter to [5 p.m.], sing three psalms or hymns, then the doxology, and then out. The songs were Psalm 20, Psalm 124, and ‘Amazing Grace.’ When we arrived, the police were waiting for us. One of them informed me that people either had to social distance or wear a mask or otherwise face a citation.”

Douglas Wilson, who wrote the post, added: “I told him that I would inform everyone of that, which I did. I said a brief prayer, and we began to sing. Over the following 15 minutes of singing, three of our people were arrested, and two others were cited.”
Sources:Christian Post

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