Harvard president calls US backtracking on student visas a ‘significant victory’

US withdrew a directive that would have forced F-1 students to leave the country if they don’t attend in-person classes.

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow has welcomed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive that would have forced international students to leave the country if they don’t attend in-person classes.

The US government withdrew the directive Tuesday, after Harvard, MIT and other schools challenged the decision in a federal court.

In a letter to the Harvard community, he called the decision “a significant victory.”

He wrote: “The directive had disrupted all of American higher education. I have heard from countless international students who said that the July 6 directive had put them at serious risk. These student—our students—can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do.”

Here is the full letter:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I am delighted to report that today the United States government withdrew the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive that, among other things, would have prevented international students from staying in the country if they attend institutions that are holding their courses online this fall. This withdrawal has nationwide effect.

This is a significant victory. The directive had disrupted all of American higher education. I have heard from countless international students who said that the July 6 directive had put them at serious risk. These student—our students—can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do. While the government may attempt to issue a new directive, our legal arguments remain strong and the Court has retained jurisdiction, which would allow us to seek judicial relief immediately to protect our international students should the government again act unlawfully. This means we expect that the 2020–2021 academic year will proceed as we have carefully planned, in our effort both to protect the health and safety of our students and others and to ensure that learning can go on in the best possible way under the current unprecedented circumstances.

We are immensely grateful for the widespread support that we and our students have received over the course of the past week. Hundreds of colleges and universities, cities, labor unions, companies, civic organizations, and higher education associations filed amicus briefs in support of the complaint that we filed jointly with MIT. We also received support from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who joined 17 attorneys general from across the United States in filing a similar complaint.

This show of support is heartening. We all recognize the value that international students bring to our campuses, to this nation, and to the world. We recognize, too, that colleges and universities must pursue their educational missions while carefully protecting the health and safety of their students, faculty, and staff. At a time when this pandemic continues to rage, we must continue to act with vigilance, informed by the best available science and with a commitment both to carrying forward the vital enterprise of learning and to safeguarding public health. The ICE directive sought to force each of us to choose between the health of our communities and the education of our international students—a false and dangerous choice which we rejected. In the end, the public overwhelmingly agreed with us, and the government, in response, withdrew its order.

Higher education in the United States seeks and attracts the best and the brightest students from around the world. They strengthen our universities immeasurably, and we aim to provide them with the best education possible—in a virtuous cycle that benefits all of us. Some will seek to stay in this country, thanks to the freedoms and opportunities that they find here. And those who return home will do so enriched by the values we hold dear.

I am grateful to my colleagues across the University who have tirelessly fought to achieve today’s important result. Many worked literally through the night to ensure that justice prevailed. We owe all of them our thanks. I look forward to the day when we can welcome our entire community back to campus. In the meantime, we remain dedicated to our academic mission, and to enabling the best possible education for our students while affirming our deep commitment to the health of people in our own community and beyond.

Sincerely,

 

Larry

Lawrence S. Bacow
President
Harvard University

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