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.
North Korea is facing a severe food shortage
Addressing a meeting of senior leaders, Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense”.
He said the agricultural sector had failed to meet its grain targets due to typhoons last year, which caused flooding.
There are reports that food prices have spiked, with NK News reporting that a kilogram of bananas costs $45 (£32).
North Korea has closed its borders to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Trade with China has plummeted as a result. North Korea relies on China for food, fertiliser and fuel.
North Korea is also struggling under international sanctions, imposed because of its nuclear programmes.
The authoritarian leader of the single-party state talked about the food situation at the ruling Workers’ Party central committee which started this week in the capital Pyongyang.
During the meeting, Mr Kim said that national industrial output had grown by a quarter compared to the same period last year.
Officials were expected to discuss relations with the US and South Korea during the event but no details have been released yet.
In April, Mr Kim made a a rare admission of looming hardship, calling on officials to “wage another, more difficult ‘Arduous March’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little”.
The Arduous March is a term used by North Korea officials to refer to the country’s struggle during the 1990s famine, when the fall of the Soviet Union left North Korea without crucial aid.
The total number of North Koreans who starved to death at the time is not known, but estimates range up to three million.
It is highly unusual for Kim Jong-un to publicly acknowledge a food shortage. But this is a North Korean leader who has already admitted that his economic plan has failed.
The problem for Mr Kim is that when he took over from his father, he promised his people a more prosperous future. He said they would have meat on their tables and access to electricity. This has not happened. Now he’s having to prime the population for more hard work.
He is trying to tie this into the global pandemic, and state media reported that he pointed out to party officials that the situation across the world is getting “worse and worse”. With so little access to outside information, he can paint a picture of things being bad everywhere – not just in sealed off North Korea. He also described efforts to beat Covid-19 as a “protracted war”. That signals that border closures are not easing any time soon.
That is the concern of many aid organisations. The sealed border has prevented some food and medicine getting through. Most NGOs have had to leave the country, unable to get staff and supplies in or out.
Pyongyang has always called for “self-reliance”. It has closed itself off, just as it may need assistance and it is unlikely to ask for help. If it continues to push away all offers of international assistance, as ever, it may be the people who pay the price.
Christian pastor killed over outreach to Muslims: ‘Today Allah has judged you’
A radical Muslim has confessed to police in Uganda that he killed a 70-year-old pastor earlier this month because of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims by sharing the Gospel.
The accused, identified as Imam Uthman Olingha, told police he killed Bishop Francis Obo, senior pastor of Mpingire Pentecostal Revival Church Ministries International in Odapako village Mpingire Sub-County, on June 11, Morning Star News reported.
Olingha was one of the Muslim extremists dressed in Islamic attire who stopped Pastor Obo and his wife on their way home from a market at about 8:30 p.m., his wife, Christine Obo, said.
“Olingha openly confessed to police that he can’t regret that he killed the bishop because he did it in the cause of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims. He added that Allah will be with him in jail, but the kafiri (infidel) deserved the killing.”
One of the attackers told the pastor, who oversaw 17 churches across the region and had been sharing Christ with Muslims, that he was an “infidel” who caused Muslims to leave Islam and “blasphemes the words of Allah,” and that, “Today Allah has judged you.”
A week before the murder, the couple had invited a former Islamic teacher to testify on how he became a Christian at their church, Christine Obo recalled. Area Muslims were also upset with the church because it offered the former Islamic teacher a pig as part of a micro-enterprise livestock project that helped raise funds for the church, she added.
Describing the incident, she said, “As I moved a few meters in a hurry trying to save my life, I heard a little noise and wailing from my husband and realized that his life was in danger.”
When she reached home, she was trembling and unable to speak, she said, and her children took her to a hospital. When she regained consciousness the following morning, she told her oldest son and his siblings to go to the site.
“Reaching there, they were shocked and fearful as they found a big number of Christians and relatives gathered around the dead body mourning their bishop after being murdered by Muslims,” Obo was quoted as saying.
According to World Watch Monitor, a homegrown Islamist rebel movement organizing in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has emboldened Ugandan radicals to persecute Christians.
Voice of the Martyrs earlier noted that Uganda’s history has made it vulnerable to the influence of Islam as “Arab countries also continue to invest significant resources into furthering Muslim interests in the country.”
In Uganda, persecution is mainly seen in the form of local Islamists persecuting Christians, mostly in areas where “radicals have been steadily encroaching.”
“Radical Islam’s influence has grown steadily, and many Christians within the majority-Muslim border regions are facing severe persecution, especially those who convert from Islam,” a Voice of the Martyrs factsheet explains. “Despite the risks, evangelical churches in Uganda have responded by reaching out to their neighbors; many churches are training leaders how to share the Gospel with Muslims and care for those who are persecuted after they become Christians.”
Last December, a mob of Muslim extremists in Uganda reportedly killed 41-year-old former imam Yusuf Kintu a week after he converted to Christianity.
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North Korea is facing a severe food shortage
Addressing a meeting of senior leaders, Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense”. He said the...
Christian pastor killed over outreach to Muslims: ‘Today Allah has judged you’
A radical Muslim has confessed to police in Uganda that he killed a 70-year-old pastor earlier this month because of...
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