• Harvard and MIT filed a similar suit last week and a hearing on it is scheduled for Tuesday
  • Foreign students make up 5.5% of the college and unversity student body but provide 26.2% of revenue
  • The suit accused the administration of failing to take into consideration the health and safety of students, faculty and staff

Eighteen attorneys general on Monday filed suit to block a federal rule that would prevent hundreds of thousands of foreign students from studying in the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week issued a rule that would revoke the visas of foreign students who do not attend class in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit follows action taken by Harvard University and MIT last week to fight the ICE order. A hearing on that suit was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Monday’s suit was filed in federal court in Boston against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, and called the federal government’s action “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful.”

“The Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a press release.

The ICE rule reversed a guidance issued March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency and gave schools flexibility, and comes amid an administration push to force schools to reopen fully for the fall semester despite the surge in virus cases across the country, especially in the West and South.

The suit says the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in promulgating the rule, failing to consider the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, along with the costs and administrative burden it imposes and the fact that remote learning is impossible in many of the students’ home countries.

The suit also notes the action will result in significant economic damage to colleges and universities.

Foreign students make up 5.5% of college and university students, and are a major source of revenue for higher education, about 26.2% in 2018 worth nearly $9 billion. In Massachusetts alone, there are 77,000 foreign students, who add $3.2 billion to the economy, the attorney general’s office said.

Also joining the suit were Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

California filed a separate lawsuit last week.

The lawsuit seeks an immediate court order blocking the ICE rule from taking effect.