Wisconsin attorney general joins coalition against federal rule on international students

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MADISON, Wis. (WFRV) – Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is among a coalition of 18 attorneys general that filed a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar international students from studying in the United States.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It challenges what the attorneys general call the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”

According to a Monday release, the lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.

“This unlawful policy pressures colleges and universities to provide in-person instruction regardless of whether it’s safe to do so and threatens to cause further harm to our economy,” said Attorney General Kaul. “While it’s been clear for months that we can’t count on the Trump administration to effectively lead the fight against the pandemic, the administration at least shouldn’t interfere with the hard work that others are doing to slow the transmission of the coronavirus and protect public health.”

In the lawsuit are 39 declarations from a number of institutions affected by the new rule, including UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Stout.

According to AG Kaul:

  • At UW-Stevens Point, 84 international students from 20 countries pay more than $2.2 million in tuition.
  • At UW- Stout, 97 international students contribute nearly $2.7 million in tuition.
  • UW-Milwaukee could lose up to half of the approximately 1,200 international students, who pay approximately $21.5 million in tuition, and $5.1 million in housing, in addition to the money these students spend at businesses supporting the local economy.
  • In 2019, international students at UW-Madison paid approximately $161.8 million in tuition and fees, and $18.8 million in housing.
    • 1,057 course sections, or 26.5% of courses, are taught by international teaching assistants.
  • UW-Green Bay has 80 enrolled students with F-1 visas who contribute approximately $1.4 million in tuition and fees every year. Green Bay could lose up to $831,100 if its 32 newly admitted students who require F-1 visas are not admitted to the county. The rule may also severely disrupt Green Bay’s Division 1 athletics, particularly in Men’s soccer.

UW System President Tommy Thompson released a statement, saying, “International students are welcomed here at the UW System. We fully support the Attorney General’s action today joining the lawsuit challenging the ICE rules regarding international students. While we provided background for the lawsuit, our belief is that our universities’ planned hybrid model of teaching delivery during the fall 2020 semester ensures our compliance with the rules if they are upheld.”

In early July, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the U.S. and take all of their classes online during the pandemic.

ICE further demanded that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester, and to certify by August 4 for each of the institutions’ international students that the student’s upcoming coursework this fall will be in person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status.

The lawsuit “alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale – in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act – and failed to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The attorneys general say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threaten their states in a number of ways, including failing to consider the health and safety of campus communities, the costs and administrative burden it poses, and the challenges for many international students. They add that the decision imposes financial and academic harm.

Joining Wisconsin in today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

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