The University of California announced Wednesday that it plans to sue the United States federal government, following a policy change from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that bars international students from residing in the U.S. if they are enrolled in a university that only offers online courses during the coronavirus pandemic for the Fall 2020 academic term. 

UC Santa Barbara, specifically, is home to over 4,000 international students. Max Abrams / Daily Nexus

The UC said in a press release that it is filing suit to seek a temporary restraining order and “preliminary and permanent injunctive relief” to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) from forcing international students to leave the country. 

I.C.E. first announced on July 6 that it was changing its policy for non-resident international student visas through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The new I.C.E. policy affects students with F-1 or M-1 visas, which are issued to students who are either attending an academic or vocational program respectively, according to the UC press release.

Under the new policy, international students attending colleges that are offering only online courses in the fall must either transfer to a new college or leave the country, and will face deportation if they do not comply. For schools under a hybrid model, such as the UC system, international students must be enrolled in at least one in-person class in order to stay in the U.S., according to the I.C.E. announcement.  

The UC said in the press release that the lawsuit will argue that “ICE failed to follow the Administrative Procedure Act” and “failed to consider both the University’s and students’ reliance interests when it barred international students from attending universities that only offer online courses during the ongoing health crisis.” 

“As part of our effort to respond to COVID-19 and to protect the health of all our students, UC has increased online instruction and decreased in-person classes … so it is imperative for UC to file this lawsuit in order to protect our students,” UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez said in the press release. 

The UC’s impending lawsuit follows the trail of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who jointly filed a lawsuit against the federal government on July 8 for the same reasons, NPR reported.

This is the second time ever that the UC has sued DHS. Previously, the UC sued DHS in 2017 over its rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled against DHS and in the UC’s favor. 

Daily life for many international students is already a challenge, but the added burden of taking online classes in a different country — and time zone — adds more obstacles to the mix.  

Currently, there are over 41,000 graduate and undergraduate international students within the UC system, according to the UC’s Fall 2019 enrollment data. UC Santa Barbara, specifically, is home to over 4,000 of those international students, according to the data.

UC President Janet Napolitano described I.C.E.’s policy change as “perplexing” in a statement earlier this week, adding that “Challenges and uncertainty related to COVID-19 are already weighing heavily on students; now is the worst time to burden them further with anxiety.”

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