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Massachusetts Attorney General On New ICE Regulation Regarding International Students


Harvard and MIT filed suit against the Trump administration today over a policy that would prevent many international students from staying in the country. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, said Monday that international students will have to leave the U.S. if they attend schools that are not offering in-person classes this fall. Well, the attorney general of Massachusetts has tweeted that she plans to sue the Trump administration, too, and she joins us now.

Maura Healey, welcome.

MAURA HEALEY: Oh, good afternoon.

KELLY: You are calling these guidelines cruel, also calling them illegal. Let me start with that second one. What is illegal here?

HEALEY: Well, first of all, the whole way they crafted this. Under normal federal rule-making processes, they actually have to look at the impact of any proposed policy and take comments and consider things. And here, what the Trump administration is doing is essentially forcing colleges and universities to physically reopen their campuses and have students on campus in the midst of a pandemic and in the face of medical - overwhelming medical health expert opinion that says that remote learning is a way that these campuses should go.

KELLY: Yeah. And the administration has been pretty overt about this. Ken Cuccinelli, who oversees citizenship and immigration at Homeland Security, told CNN today this is designed to encourage universities to fully reopen this fall. I mean, the administration would also argue this has long been the case. Foreign students have been limited in how many online courses they can take and that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for that, why they need to do the majority of their learning in the classroom. Is this really that big a shift?

HEALEY: Yeah, it's a huge shift. I mean, let's be clear about this - and I worked with Ken Cuccinelli when he was a state attorney general - he, Steve Miller and the Trump administration is engaged in a full-on anti-immigrant effort. This is to punish our immigrant students and - excuse me - our foreign students and also to punish colleges and universities. Colleges and universities have put a lot of time and resources into figuring out how they're going to teach students this fall. And this is a sudden, unexplained, drastic shift to the student visa program that not only punishes the 77,000 foreign students who come to Massachusetts for education, but hundreds of thousands of students across this country. So it's going to affect our residents, and it's going to affect our state institutions and frankly our economy.

KELLY: The administration is also signaling, and I'll quote Ken Cuccinelli again, that - he said anything short of 100% online would be acceptable, if international students can figure out how to do some component of their education in person. Do you see some flexibility here, some wiggle room?

HEALEY: Well, it seems to me if the president truly were focused on the needs of this country, he'd be focused on the public health crisis in front of us, the coronavirus pandemic. And we have to listen to public health. Our colleges and universities have been working hard and have been guided by public health experts. And there's no reason why a college and university, if it has a way to operate remotely through online programming, isn't able to do that, they certainly shouldn't be punished. They shouldn't be threatened.

But this has been the name of the game with the Trump administration. We've seen this before. We took him to court on the travel ban. We took him to court to ensure that the DACA program remains in place. And again, this is just another example of the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies, xenophobic policies, frankly, that have a discriminatory effect on so many around this country, and certainly on our colleges and universities who, you know, again, we have tens of thousands of foreign students who come to our state every year for education.

KELLY: I wonder if you are hearing from any of your counterparts, attorneys general in other states, on whether they might be considering similar litigation.

HEALEY: Absolutely. Many states I expect to be joining in litigation. We plan to file very soon. You've already seen Harvard and MIT file today. I expect that other colleges will be involved as well because, you know, again, this is an attempt to improperly coerce these colleges and universities into doing something that is against the health interests of their faculty and staff and students but also really hurts their economic bottom line here and attempt to punish them.

KELLY: So any update on when you will file your lawsuit?

HEALEY: Well, we are preparing the papers as we speak. We're working on the details, but we hope to be filing this as soon as possible because students and our colleges and universities need this relief now. And we will do everything we can to support their efforts to protect students.

KELLY: Maura Healey, thanks very much.

HEALEY: Good to be with you.

KELLY: Maura Healey, Massachusetts attorney general.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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