College signs amicus brief supporting Harvard and MIT lawsuit against ICE

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In an email sent out to the College community on July 8, President of the College Maud S. Mandel condemned the federal guidance issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which, among other restrictions, prohibits international students from returning to or remaining in the country if they are enrolled exclusively in online courses during the fall semester. 

Yesterday, the College signed an amicus brief — a legal document filed by parties that have an interest in a case — supporting the lawsuit filed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) seeking to block the ICE directive. The College signed it jointly with 58 other institutions of higher learning, including Amherst and seven Ivy League universities. An amicus brief on the same topic was also filed July 11 by 180 institutions of higher education represented by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, of which the College is a member.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order against the ICE directive, and a reversion to the earlier guidance issued by ICE on March 13 that allowed students with an F-1 visa, which is issued for academic study, to take online classes while retaining their visa status. The government stated that the March 13 guidance was “in effect for the duration of the [COVID-19] emergency.” The lawsuit contends that the emergency continues to this day, since “the President’s national emergency declaration has not been rescinded or terminated,” and COVID-19 cases continue to grow. The lawsuit also states, “The effect — and perhaps even the goal [of the ICE directive] — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.”

After a brief virtual hearing on July 10, a federal judge in Boston set another hearing for today, indicating that at that hearing she will primarily consider whether the lawsuit against the federal agency has “a likelihood of success on the merits.”

The ICE order, which Mandel described in her email as “arguably intended primarily as a political signal, with little attention paid to actual details or impact,” will affect international students on F-1 visas at the College in the following ways if it is implemented as currently planned:

Students wishing to spend the fall semester on campus will only be able to do so if they take at least one in-person course. This would mean that after Thanksgiving, when all College classes become fully online, such students will be forced to leave the U.S.

Students wishing to take all their fall classes online and live off-campus in Williamstown or elsewhere in the country will no longer be able to do so, and will have to leave the U.S.

It is unclear if students wishing to take the fall semester remotely while residing outside of the U.S. will be able to maintain a valid F-1 visa status. If not, such students will have to reapply for a visa when they wish to return to the U.S. The College is “working to confirm” if this will be the case, according to Mandel’s email. 

An online petition entitled “Support and Protect Williams International Students” started by Magdalena Arias ’23 had 1,640 signatures at press time. The petition calls on the College to “establish measures to protect and support international students,” including “financial and legal aid … as well as the ability for international students to reside on campus.”

This is a developing story, and the Record will continue coverage in the coming days.