Attorney General: Connecticut plans legal challenge of ICE ruling on international students

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Contributed photo

Connecticut intends to challenge the Trump administration’s decision to bar international students from staying in the U.S. if they take classes entirely online this fall.

“We intend to file suit and are coordinating with other state attorneys general,” Elizabeth Benton, a spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, said Wednesday.

“In the current health crisis, universities need to be able to make prudent choices about the health and safety of their students, faculty and staff without fear of draconian and punitive immigration consequences,” said Tong, in a statement posted on his website. “We stand ready to lead our sister states in doing so yet again.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had permitted non-immigrant students in the spring and summer semesters to take more online courses than normally allowed because of the pandemic. Spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “wanted to continue to provide flexibility” but that there was “a concordant need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”

Tong, in a statement posted on his website, called the ICE rule “yet another cruel, unnecessary and harmful policy decision from the Trump administration.”

“I have already heard from Connecticut students who are in danger of being kicked out of the country because of this rule change,” Tong said.

He noted that the University of Connecticut, the state’s flagship university, has more than 3,500 international students, which accounts for 13 percent of its student body.

“These students often become immigrants who allow our nation’s economy to grow and thrive,” Tong said.

UConn, like many universities and colleges in Connecticut, plans to offer both in-person and online courses this fall as it responds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While not singling out higher education institutions, President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding to American schools that don’t reopen in the fall regardless of the coronavirus. He lashed out at federal health officials and insisted Democrats want to keep schools closed for election-year reasons and not because of any risks associated with the coronavirus.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election,” Trump tweeted, “but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

Vice President Mike Pence later suggested that future COVID-19 relief bills could be tied to reopening schools.

“As we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back in school,” Pence said at a coronavirus task force briefing.

Connecticut has plans to reopen K-12 schools full time in the fall, but will give parents the option of keeping their kids home to continue distance learning for the time being.

Includes prior reporting by the Associated Press.