Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
On Monday, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students will not be allowed to stay in the country if they attend institutions, like Harvard, that are holding courses online this fall. Their choices are either to transfer to another institution that provides in-person or hybrid (both in-person and online) instruction—or to depart the country and risk not being able to return. Those students who fail to comply with this guidance may face deportation.
The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others. This comes at a time when the United States has been setting daily records for the number of new infections, with more than 300,000 new cases reported since July 1. Moreover, if an institution pursues in-person or hybrid instruction this fall and a serious outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, the institution would face strong pressure not to switch to online instruction, as Harvard and others necessarily did this past March, because to do so would immediately place its international students in jeopardy.
In making plans for the fall, Harvard, like many other institutions, has sought to balance addressing concerns for public health with preserving our academic mission of teaching and scholarship, and we have undertaken careful planning to address the unique circumstances of our community and to enable students to make educational progress safely. We have done so recognizing that the nation is in the grip of a pandemic that poses risks to the health of millions and that threatens to overwhelm our capacity to manage it. We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.
Within the last hour, we filed pleadings together with MIT in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order. We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.
For many of our international students, studying in the United States and studying at Harvard is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. These students are our students, and they enrich the learning environment for all. We fervently hope that, before long, the circumstances that necessitate online learning will pass. As a university with a profound commitment to residential education, we hope and intend to resume full in-person instruction as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so. But, until that time comes, we will not stand by to see our international students’ dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order. We owe it to them to stand up and to fight—and we will.