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The Trump administration has punted on its threat to international students

In a surprising move Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will reverse its decision regarding international students that would have forced them to leave the country if they did not enroll in in-person classes. DHS oversees Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the agency that announced July 6 that individuals in the U.S. on student visas who are not attending in-person classes this fall — even if their school has moved to online-only instruction — would need to either leave the country or find a new school that is offering in-person instruction. But on Tuesday, DHS said that it would no longer pursue the guidance, heeding the calls of almost 20 attorneys general and over 60 colleges and universities that had vowed to protect international students. The hearing lasted just five minutes.

The Boston Globe reported on the "surprise announcement," which was made Tuesday afternoon in Boston district court. Both Harvard University and MIT had sought to halt the ICE rule, which would have potentially forced students into removal proceedings, jeopardized their health, and stunted their education.

Separately, on Monday, attorneys general from 17 states plus Washington, D.C., had geared up for their own fight against the federal government. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote in the state's defense of international students that the rule was "just another example of the Trump administration using our educational system to make a political statement, at the expense of our students and schools."

In March, shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., ICE issued guidance that said international students could take online-only courses. As it became clear the virus was worsening, a number of universities and educational institutions moved some or all of their courses online as a way to mitigate infection rates.

But earlier this month, with no warning or justification, ICE went back on its March decision. The rule would've penalized international students for their schools' choice to move classes online to protect public health. But as DHS has now reversed course again with Tuesday's announcement, international students will be able to safely take online courses, stay at their university of choice, and remain in the country without fear of deportation.