A Sidley pro bono team is representing a class of international graduate students in California whose status in the United States was recently jeopardized by a federal order issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ICE policy would initiate deportation proceedings against those who take classes exclusively online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California, seeks injunctive relief and an order vacating the policy so that international students can continue their education while maintaining the best practices when it comes to public health.
The Sidley team is working together on the federal lawsuit with co-counsel from Public Counsel; Evan Caminker, professor of law and dean emeritus of the University of Michigan; and Mark Haddad, Sidley alumnus and lecturer in law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
“The ICE policy requiring foreign students to attend in-person classes, even where their universities have determined that to do so will cost lives and endanger the campus community, in keeping with the judgment of public health experts, treats them as pawns for the president’s politically motivated decision,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project. “It is the latest of a series of irrational actions that is deepening the pandemic crisis in our nation, and it comes as no surprise that the lives being threatened in the first instance are those of immigrants, here lawfully studying to contribute productively here and abroad.”
When the first stay-at-home orders were issued in March in California, preventing universities from holding in-person classes, international students were protected by guidance issued by ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which kept nonimmigrant student visas in compliance regardless of how their institution handled the transition to remote learning. However, as California registers some of its highest new daily case totals in early July since the pandemic began, the SEVP has retracted its exemptions, requiring international students whose institutions choose to conduct the fall 2020 term entirely online to leave the United States.
“The administration’s abrupt decision to expel international students during the pandemic is gratuitously cruel to the students and would do immeasurable harm to our universities and our country,” said Mark Haddad. “Because this stunning policy change inflicts profound harm and yet was issued without any explanation, it is unlawful and should be swiftly blocked by the courts.”
“In the midst of the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, our government has taken abrupt, arbitrary, and illogical action that presents these students with a Hobson’s choice of either subjecting themselves and those around them to the risk of infection of COVID-19 by attending classes in person, or being forced from the country in which they have planned and prepared to spend the coming academic year,” said Stacy Horth-Neubert, counsel in Sidley’s Commercial Litigation and Disputes practice. “We look forward to helping our clients regain the security of knowing that they can complete their studies in the United States while conforming to public health guidelines, even if that means studying online until the current crisis has passed.”
The Sidley team includes partners Lisa Gilford and David Carpenter, counsel Stacy Horth-Neubert, and associates Sheri Rockwell, Summer Wall, Paula Salazar, and Peter De Golia (all from the firm’s Los Angeles office), partner Marketa Lindt (Chicago), and associate Radhika Kannan (Washington, D.C.).