Colleges and Universities Across New York Support Attorney General James’ Lawsuit Against Trump Administration for Reversing Policy That Threatens to Deport International Students or Spread Coronavirus Across New York

NEW YORK – After New York Attorney General Letitia James yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s for suddenly reversing a policy that threatens to deport more than a million international students at colleges and universities across the nation or risk the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by forcing them to take in-person classes this fall, numerous colleges, universities, educational organizations, students, elected officials, and unions publicly stated their support for the lawsuit and against the reversal of policy.

“We are proud to have a wide and growing coalition of colleges, universities, educational organizations, students, and unions supporting our lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration’s cruel and dangerous policy that threatens us all,” said Attorney General James. “International students should never be used as political fodder to force colleges to reopen their doors, but the president’s inability to remove politics from public health decisions endangers us all. The diversity of our colleges and universities is what makes New York schools among the world’s most competitive and most sought after, but President Trump’s reversal in policy not only threatens these innocent students’ educational paths, but our state’s hard-hit economy and the public health of millions of New Yorkers. Schools should never have to choose between enrolling international students in in-person classes and maintaining public health, which is why we will use every legal tool at our disposal to stop the president.”

“We applaud the Attorney General’s challenge to the Trump Administration’s decision to strip the visas of international students taking courses remotely during the pandemic,” said Frederick E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions (UUP). “International students provide crucial cultural, academic, and financial resources to SUNY campuses across the state. They should be supported during this crisis, not demonized. The new ICE rules will drive New York colleges and universities to reopen and/or expand in-person educational opportunities in perilous ways amid the expanding pandemic. ICE’s action places politics above the health and safety of SUNY’s nearly 22,000 international students, and the 37,000 UUP-represented SUNY employees who teach and work with them. UUP and our members strongly oppose this policy and we will fight for our students.”

“UAW is proud to stand with Attorney General James, a proactive front-line advocate for workers and immigrant rights,” said Beverley Brakeman, Region 9 director at United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). “UAW represents tens of thousands of academic workers at universities across the U.S. — nearly 15,000 in New York City alone at Columbia, The New School, NYU, Barnard, Teachers College, and more. Trump’s June 22nd executive order barring non-immigrant visa holders from coming back to the U.S. to work and study under the guise of ‘keeping America safe’ and the July 6th ICE order prohibiting students and student workers from staying or coming to the U.S. if their universities are conducting classes on-line are dangerous, xenophobic, and racist policies that will upend lives and careers. With Attorney General James, we will use the power of our union to protect international students and workers because we deeply value the vast and critical contributions they make every day to science, research, technology, teaching, and more to their universities, New York City and New York state, our union, and this country.”

“Threatening international students with deportation is the latest of the Trump Administration’s cruel and often racist attempts to exploit the COVID-19 emergency for political aims,” said Dr. Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY (PSC). “The sudden reversal in policy by ICE is a thinly veiled effort to force colleges to resume in-person classes even if it is unsafe to do so, to attack higher education itself, and to devastate the lives of some of the most brilliant students in the country. It continues three years of attacks on immigrants, particularly immigrants of color. The members of the PSC count ourselves lucky to teach the extraordinary international students at CUNY and to include many international students among our members. We applaud Attorney General Tish James for standing up for public health and for the thousands of international students whose presence in this country is essential to the quality of research and learning American universities provide.”

“This new federal policy is deeply concerning to our entire university system and runs contrary to SUNY’s longstanding commitment to access, inclusion, and equity,” said Tod Laursen, provost and senior vice chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY). “We value the contributions, diverse background, and perspectives our international students bring to SUNY and vow to aggressively advocate for the reversal of this damaging policy. We thank New York Attorney General James for taking on this important legal action to send a clear and direct message that we will fight against any injustice that aims to strip away the access of a high-quality education for our international students, which is at the core of SUNY’s deep-rooted mission of education for all.” 

“CUNY campuses have thousands of international students who are a valuable and vital part of our community,” said Félix Matos Rodríguez, chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY). “The university is proud to join New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ challenge to the misguided federal rule change that could force international students to have to leave the U.S. or face deportation. With the likelihood that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to make distance learning the predominant mode of instruction at colleges across the country, this mean-spirited policy change threatens vulnerable students and higher education at a time when the nation’s universities are working hard to adjust to both the health and economic crises wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Trump Administration’s new rule will harm students and communities across New York and will force students to choose between their health and their ability to remain in the United States,” said Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents the public policy interests of more than 100 of New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities. “The new rule is a gratuitous attempt by the Trump Administration to coerce campuses into fully reopening before they are ready to do so and to frighten international students into leaving the country. If students are forced to abandon their studies and leave the country, the colleges and communities that benefit from their contributions to research and campus life will also suffer. On behalf of New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities and their students, I am grateful to New York Attorney General Letitia James for fighting to protect international students.”

“This new rule by ICE will force many international students, like me, to risk our health for our education,” said Beom Joon Baek, president of the Columbia College Student Council and an international student at Columbia University from South Korea. “We feel that this is an attempt by the Trump Administration to force schools to reopen while enacting a repressive rule against international students, thereby limiting immigration in the long run. This will damage the educational prestige of American institutions across the world. Finally, this rule deprives international students of getting an education that does not risk their health and safety. This lawsuit hopefully will show that New York still welcomes foreigners and immigrants.”

“As the chairwoman of the New York State Higher Education Committee, I am delighted to support Attorney General James’ lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s newly modified regulations,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (SD-16). “Our president is using international students as leverage to force colleges and universities across the country to ignore COVID-19 health concerns and reopen their campuses. He is trying to foment racial conflict and we must push back for the safety of all students, faculty, and staff throughout New York.”

“Whilst the new restrictions for international students are not shocking in the context of the Trump Administration's blatant repeated remarks, which often feature xenophobia towards immigrants, they are nonetheless incredibly damaging for universities nationwide and particularly damaging towards the Columbia community,” said Rowan Lilian Shnir, vice president of the Society of International Undergraduates at Barnard College. “The current pandemic has already caused immense struggle for many students, but the newly implemented restrictions against international students take blatant advantage of their particularly vulnerable position and unjustly punish universities that accept and provide support to these students as well. They complicate an existing complex manner needlessly, in order to take advantage of those most vulnerable on the basis of discrimination. We stand with the international students of Columbia University and support Attorney General James’ lawsuit against this new policy.”

“We are deeply concerned about recently proposed regulations from DHS that prohibit international students from remaining enrolled at universities that are fully online in the 2020-21 academic year,” said Harvey Stenger, president of Binghamton University, SUNY. “While Binghamton’s plan for the fall will allow international students to comply with federal regulations, the proposed guidelines could create problems for international students in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak that would require us to shift to fully online instruction to protect the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. Our international students have made significant investments in their education, and it would be an act of bad faith to prevent them from continuing their studies through graduation. We thank Attorney General James for filing this lawsuit.”

“International students are a vital part of our Brooklyn College campus community,” said Michelle J. Anderson, president of Brooklyn College, CUNY. They deserve the opportunity to remain in the country and continue their studies without interruption.”

“I stand in full support of New York Attorney General Letitia James and her efforts to stop this damaging directive before it takes effect,” said Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University. “The Attorney General should be commended for adding her voice and the weight of her office to those opposing immigration policies that harm international students and the institutions of higher education that benefit immeasurably from their presence.”

“When we discourage or turn away international students, we lose much more than the students themselves,” said Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University. “We lose their inventions and innovation, their collaboration and contributions. We lose the richness of their learned experiences in other cultures, languages, communities, and political systems. Cornell has welcomed students from around the world since its founding — our campus community, our classrooms, research, and scholarship would all be profoundly diminished by the loss of international perspectives. In time, as a country, we risk losing our centers of technical excellence, which will, inevitably, migrate to places where every talented contributor is welcome. Ultimately, we will jeopardize not just our status as a global leader, but our very identity as a nation that embraced the vigor, innovation, and diversity brought from around the world that earned us that status in the first place.”

“While Hofstra University is offering a combination of in-person and hybrid courses, meaning students will take classes both online and on campus, we support the efforts of the New York State Attorney General to roll back any regulation that makes it more difficult for international students to enroll in American institutions of higher education and complete their ongoing studies,” said Stuart Rabinowitz, president of Hofstra University. “We support the efforts of the Council on Independent Colleges and Universities and the President’s Alliance for Education and Immigration, which has called on the Department of Homeland Security to rescind this rule.

“The change of federal rules affecting international students impacts hundreds of vital and valued members of our Hunter College community,” said Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College, CUNY. “When Thomas Hunter, an Irish immigrant, founded Hunter College a century and a half ago, he affirmatively welcomed students of every race, religion, social class, and heritage. If international students are not able to stay in the U.S. and we cannot welcome them into our country, our diversity and founding vision will be compromised. Hunter is dedicated to supporting our international students and doing what we can to make it possible for them to continue their studies in the U.S.”

“As a global teaching and research university, Long Island University takes great pride in welcoming students from around the world who add immeasurably to our academic and cultural mosaic,” said Dr. Kimberly Cline, president of Long Island University (LIU). “We are grateful for Attorney General Tish James' leadership on behalf of international students and the higher education community. LIU will continue to do all it can to welcome international students and support policies that allow all students to pursue the dream of a higher education in the United States.”

“We are grateful to New York Attorney General Letitia James for taking on this important issue,” said Dr. Dwight A. McBride, president of The New School. “The proposed ICE guidelines are cruel, unnecessary and deeply flawed — for students, for higher education, and for the country. As COVID-19 cases steadily increase throughout the United States, the new rule undercuts the prudence, careful planning, and reliance on public health and safety guidance that have informed university decisions around teaching and learning in the near term. Caught in the crosshairs of politics, dedicated scholars and future leaders who contribute mightily to U.S. culture and the economy could be exiled from the country they have seen as a haven. We need to be building educational bridges for our students right now, not bureaucratic trap doors.”

“The guidance issued by ICE unnecessarily puts the students who have come from around the world to study in our country in a very difficult position,” said Andrew Hamilton, president of New York University (NYU). “International students have long been an integral part of U.S. campuses. They contribute to the vibrancy of university education in the U.S., learn about U.S. values, and bring diverse skills and knowledge to our communities. Our country’s universities routinely attract the best students from around the world, and they in turn help make discoveries, advance knowledge, and spur science, technology, and innovation. We thank Attorney General James for taking action to protect our international students and fully support her efforts to stop ICE’s policy.”

“The decision to force international students who are not taking in-person classes to leave the country is cruel and wrong and puts schools in the position of having to require both faculty and students to jeopardize their health, so students can stay in the country,” said Nicky Nenkov, chair of NYU’s Student Government Assembly and an international student at NYU from Bulgaria. “Like over a million other international students across the country, I’ve spent the past week with my world turned upside down. International students in the United States are some of the best and brightest scientists and scholars from around the world. For so many of us, coming to study at a prestigious university in the United States, like NYU, was a lifelong dream — it was for me. To an institution like NYU, which houses over 17,000 students and scholars from over 140 countries and holds immense pride in its globality, this policy is insulting. It puts undue pressure on us and our universities in a time where resources are scarce and the future is already uncertain; it causes us to panic and scramble to try to keep students safe. Many of us are at risk in our home countries; some of us cannot even currently go home, because travel from the United States is barred. For those of us who are seniors, like I am, leaving the country would mean complications with our re-entry into the United States; and complications with our post-graduation professional training and employment. It asks us to weigh our present lives against our futures. The SGA Executive Committee fully supports Attorney General James' lawsuit.”

“RIT values our international students and recognizes that they contribute greatly to the intellectual and social fabric of our university, whether they participate in coursework online or in the classroom,” said David Munson, president of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). “For those reasons alone, we join Attorney General James and many other colleges and universities in strongly opposing the July 6 ICE directive. Our effort is guided by science and health considerations and will follow the guidelines established by New York state.

“This unduly restrictive policy not only adds to the stress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, but also serves to increase the divide between the United States and the rest of the world,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesw, Ph.D., president of St. John's University. “Our institution, our city, and our country are made better by the contributions of immigrants and international students. St. John's University remains committed to our international students and their success.”

“Our university is strong because we bring brilliant people together from all over the world to learn, collaborate, and work together,” said Maurie McInnis, president of Stony Brook University, SUNY. “Anything that prevents us from doing that is anathema to our mission.”

“We are deeply disappointed by this new guidance and its unfair treatment toward international students, and we support these and other efforts to protect them from unnecessary harm,” said Kent Syverud, chancellor of Syracuse University. “International students are an integral part of our global Syracuse University community. Their excellence and contributions enrich us all. We are working closely with our students to ensure they are in compliance with this new directive. Students who choose to come to this country seeking knowledge and scholarship have our unequivocal support.”

“ICE’s policy announcement was unexpected, unwarranted, and cruel to the international students at our university and at other universities across the nation,” said Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, president of the University of Rochester. “We understand the fear, fury, and anxiety this guidance has caused: we share it, and we will work together to overcome it. This is obviously a confusing and distressing situation, and we are aggressively pursuing governmental, legal, and educational avenues to challenge these new restrictions. We want to state unequivocally that our international students, who contribute so much to the scholarly, social, and cultural environments at the University of Rochester, are essential to our enterprise and they are core members of our past, present, and future. And we want to state unequivocally and directly to our international students: you are welcome here. The university thanks Attorney General James for her leadership and support of our students.”

Yesterday’s lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in addition to the agencies’ respective leaders. In the suit, Attorney General James argues that ICE, last week, announced a major policy reversal affecting almost every college and university in New York, and thousands more across the country, and that this reversal in policy threatens public health, students’ educations, and New York’s larger economy.