July 15, 2020
In a late morning telephone press conference July 14, UUP President Fred Kowal expressed his strong support for state Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit challenging a new Trump administration policy that would deport international students who only take online classes in the fall.
By late afternoon, Kowal and UUP’s statewide officers were celebrating the news that the rules, put in place July 6 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, had been rescinded.
“This is a great win for international students at SUNY and across America, and for higher education,” said Kowal. “The Trump administration has backed off its xenophobic, politically motivated policy, which would have forced campuses to hold in-person classes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and without regard to the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and communities that host SUNY campuses.”
The decision to rescind the new ICE rules came at an eight-minute hearing in Boston July 14 with attorneys representing Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ICE. Harvard and MIT filed suit July 8 to challenge the ICE rule changes.
Both sides agreed to keep in place a March exemption from ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program that allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to remain in the U.S. while taking all or most of their classes online. The reinstatement of the provision, put in place at the start of the pandemic with no end date, rendered the new ICE rules moot.
Fighting for right
UUP has been outspoken about its opposition to the new ICE rules—which were imposed without public notice. On July 8, UUP released a media statement that registered the union’s objections and its decision to stand with SUNY’s nearly 22,000 international students.
On July 9, statewide Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler appeared on Albany TV news station WTEN to speak out against the ICE rules. The next day, Kowal sent a letter to SUNY General Counsel-in-Charge Sandra Casey expressing UUP’s “profound dismay” over the ICE rule changes and urged SUNY to legally challenge the changes.
At the AG’s press conference , Kowal reiterated UUP’s concerns about the ICE rules and said they would place the future of international students at SUNY in jeopardy and put them, as well as faculty, staff and SUNY communities, in danger of being exposed to the coronavirus. That exposure could lead to community spread and the possibility of more COVID-19 cases.
“If allowed, the new ICE rules would drive New York colleges and universities to reopen and expand in-person educational opportunities in perilous ways,” Kowal said. “International students provide crucial cultural, academic and financial resources to SUNY campuses across the state. They should be supported during this crisis, not demonized.”
New York lawsuit
James filed New York’s lawsuit and a motion for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order July 13 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“To be clear, international students should never be used as political fodder for colleges to reopen their doors,” James said. “President Trump’s reversal of ICE policy not only threatens the educational paths of these students, it threatens our economy and our health. Schools should never have to choose between enrolling students in classes and maintaining public health.”
A former UUP member who taught at Empire State College in New York City, James said she filed New York’s lawsuit separate from other suits challenging the ICE policy because New York City and New York state have huge numbers of international students.
New York City has the most international students in the U.S.; more than 100,000 international students live in the city. The state has the second-highest number of international students in the country, James said.
Besides the Harvard/MIT case, attorneys general from 17 states—including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut—sued to block the Trump administration’s visa rule for international students.
Kowal said the ICE rule changes would have had a detrimental impact on SUNY research, potentially causing a “brain drain” because so many international students are involved in research at SUNY. Tod Laursen, SUNY provost and senior vice chancellor, said that more than 3,000 international students are involved in research at SUNY.
“SUNY’s research would be set back significantly by these new rules,” said Kowal before the rule change had been revoked. “UUP and our members are strongly opposed to the changes and we will fight along without our international students and communities to defeat it.”
The telephone press conference also included comments from PSC/CUNY President Barbara Bowen; CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez; United Auto Workers Region 9 Director Beverley Brakeman; Commission of Independent Colleges & Universities President Mary Beth Labate; and Beom Joon Baek, president of the Columbia College Student Council.