Skip to main content

Northwestern challenges new ICE directive on international students

Supports amicus brief in Harvard/MIT case and contributes to state attorneys general lawsuit opposing the directive
Northwestern has joined 58 other colleges and universities in a brief to fight the ICE rule.

Northwestern University today joined two legal challenges opposing a new rule by the federal government that threatens to deport international students who don’t attend in-person classes this fall. The University also is mounting lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., to try to roll back the rule.

Northwestern is participating in a lawsuit filed today by the Illinois attorney general and attorneys general from 17 other states alleging that the new guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is harmful to both international students and to the American universities that enroll them. The states’ lawsuit alleges that the ICE directive violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it provides no justification for the sudden change in immigration rules and fails to consider the significant burden of the regulation on universities and students.  

Today Northwestern also joined 58 public and private colleges and universities from 25 states and the District of Columbia in an amicus brief in support of a motion for preliminary injunction filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week. That suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts after the U.S. administration released its new directive. 

“I am horrified by the federal guidelines issued this week,” President Morton Schapiro said in a message to the Northwestern community last week announcing the University’s participation in the amicus brief. “I want every one of our international students to know that your University community stands beside you in this painful moment. You are not alone. We will support you in the days ahead.”

International students are vital

Northwestern Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty said that international students are vital in efforts to bring the best expertise from around the world to this University and others. “Leading American universities like Northwestern depend on the talents, innovations and contributions of students and scholars from around the globe to advance scholarship and research,” she said, “and they enrich student learning and diversity on the nation’s campuses, helping make U.S. institutions among the best in the world.” 

The case filed today — in the same federal court in Massachusetts — by multiple state attorneys general opposing the new ICE guidance includes declarations from 15 Illinois universities explaining how the federal government’s new rule will harm students from Northwestern and other universities as well as universities themselves.

“The rule is already causing significant stress for our international student population, many of whom are understandably anxious about their ability to remain in, or eventually return to, the United States to complete their studies,” said Annelise Riles, executive director of the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, in Northwestern’s declaration to the court about how the directive impacts the University.

“Moreover, the loss of international students in courses will irreparably harm the development of all students, as innovative ideas are sparked when students and scholars from around the world gather to think, debate and collaborate together,” she said. “Northwestern’s stature as a world-class research university depends on the presence and well-being of diverse students from around the world.” 

Universities are the gateway to the world

As these legal challenges move forward, President Schapiro underscored the importance of international students to America in general today, noting, “The presence of international students on our campuses is not a matter of generosity; it is in our vital national interest. Universities are gateways to the world — places where people of all nationalities come together to freely share their knowledge and learn from one another. This open global outlook is the source of so many scientific innovations our universities have led over the last decades and our principal means of understanding the world beyond our borders.”

In filing the lawsuit, Illinois Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul said, “ICE’s arbitrary new rule harms both international students and the institutions where these students contribute to creating a diverse and culturally-vibrant academic environment. Announcing this rule in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional confusion and upheaval for students and universities already facing uncertainty caused by the pandemic. As the son of immigrants and the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I am committed to fighting the administration’s anti-immigrant policies.”

Amicus brief includes 59 institutions

In the amicus brief, the group of 59 colleges and universities argued that the international student visa program enables them to enroll tens of thousands of international students annually. In the era of COVID-19, the federal government’s earlier guidance was that these students could attend all-remote courses in the U.S., given the pandemic, “for the duration of the emergency.”

That changed abruptly and drastically with the new ICE guidance announced July 6 to amend requirements of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, causing what universities widely consider an excessive burden that would force them to redraw course schedules with little time before the new school year begins. 

The federal government is “already preventing returning students from reentering the country,” the brief said in its argument, noting in repeated sections that the new rule was “arbitrary and capricious” for multiple reasons. The brief said those include the fact that the rule deviates abruptly from previous policy, gives no consideration to the dilemma it imposes on schools and students and fails to consider the enormous burden it imposes on them in order to comply.

The brief adds that the ICE guidance is “devoid of any reasoned explanation or justification” and would do “tremendous harm” to students affected. The brief asks the court to issue a nationwide injunction to prevent the new guidance from taking effect.

Northwestern has consistently advocated strongly in efforts with the executive and legislative branches to support international students, DACA students and immigrant students to study at Northwestern if they are qualified. The University has strongly protested immigration policies that threatened the legal status of certain University students to remain in the country when those policies ran counter to Northwestern values. 

These efforts have included fighting executive orders by the current administration aimed at barring entry by certain nationals from mostly Muslim nations. 

In regard to the ICE guidance, Northwestern officials have worked diligently with the higher education community in Washington, D.C., and university advocacy associations to lobby for international students to remain in the country so they can attend school, help the economy with their work and make invaluable contributions to scientific research.

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts