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Penn State Joins Amicus Brief Supporting International Students

Penn State has joined dozens of colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit to block federal policies prohibiting international students from remaining in the United States while studying online this fall.

The brief, filed on Monday, July 13, provides perspective on the case and argues the updated federal guidelines are “arbitrary and capricious.”

Attorney Matthew E. Price asserted the policy fails to provide flexibility for international students during a public health crisis, doesn’t consider the “dilemmas” schools and students will face, doesn’t consider the “substantial compliance burdens” it places on universities, and doesn’t include a reasoned explanation for the new policy.

“Despite its disregard of substantial reliance interests and imposition of irrational dilemmas, burdensome compliance requirements, and terrible human consequences for students, the July 6 Directive provides no explanation at all, let alone a reasoned one, for its dictates,” Price wrote. “It refers only vaguely to ‘a concordant need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.’

“But it does not explain what prompted this need midpandemic, or how this directive is consistent with basic principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy — hallmarks of the American system of higher education that are even more critical during one of the gravest public health crises of modern times.”

The brief, in support of a lawsuit that listed the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a few officials as defendants, also cited updated policies fail to consider relief policies put into place in March to help universities amid the pandemic.

In its conclusion, the amicus brief called for the enjoinment of the policies. Price wrote immigration law should be applied “evenly throughout the nation” and urged the court to provide relief for international students who are already in a tough spot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the universities agreed losing international students to deportation would damage their communities and contributions to each institution.

“When we discourage or turn away international students, we lose much more than the students themselves,” Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said. “We lose their inventions and innovation, their collaboration and contributions. We lose the richness of their learned experiences in other cultures, languages, communities, and political systems.”

Penn State is one of 59 institutions to join the brief from 24 states and Washington, D.C. Others include Big Ten schools such as Rutgers, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Purdue, and Nebraska, as well as other notable universities such as Notre Dame, Cornell, Princeton, and UPenn (No, not that UPenn).

Collectively, the 59 universities enroll more than approximately 213,000 international students each year who are “core members” of the institutions.

“They make valuable contributions to our classrooms, campuses, and communities — contributions that have helped make American higher education the envy of the world,” Price wrote. “International students contribute to a diversity of through, background, and experience that ‘promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.'”

Amicus briefs allow parties not affiliated with the litigation (read: Penn State) to provide arguments, perspective, and advice to the court on the case or issues at hand.

Earlier this month, Penn State President Eric Barron strongly supported an “immediate rescission” of ICE’s federal guidelines and said the university will work to keep its international students safe this fall.

“We cannot assail this unjust edict enough, but if it remains, we will do everything in our power to support our international students as they work to finish their degrees on campus,” Barron wrote.

Additionally, Penn State’s Students Teaching Students program compiled a list of courses currently slated to be taught in-person this fall. The organization hopes the list will be useful for international students who may need to enroll in a course or two to remain in the country should the policies remain in place.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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