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Mintz Provides Pro Bono Counsel to University Student Governments in Amicus Brief Filed in Harvard, MIT Lawsuit Combatting ICE Directive for International Students

Mintz provided pro bono legal counsel, in partnership with pro bono counsel Clifford Chance, to amici curiae — a group of student governments, associations, and councils from U.S. universities — in a brief filed in support of Harvard College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and government officials, in an effort to block ICE’s July 6 directive that would rescind certain visas for foreign students, and prevent them from entering the United States, if their coursework is conducted entirely online.

The brief, filed on July 13, shares the stories of thirteen individuals including international students residing in the United States under F-1 visas, as well as domestic students who learn from, collaborate with, care about, and rely upon their international classmates’ contributions to their education, in order to highlight the personal and human costs of ICE’s harmful directive.

Additionally, the brief addresses the directive’s failure to consider the reliance interests driving both international and domestic students’ decisions to enroll in their respective universities. “Because of an arbitrary and capricious policy promulgated by ICE at the height of a global pandemic, international students are now faced with the dilemma of forfeiting their education or risking their lives,” the brief states.

The individual accounts compiled in the brief demonstrate the life-altering impact of the directive. For example, “SF,” an international student pursuing a master’s in international development, would not be able to finish his education if forced to return to his home country of Ethiopia, where the government routinely shuts down the internet in response to civil unrest. For “AZ,” a Palestinian citizen who has finished his first year of his master’s program and is participating in two internships, the directive has also caused immense stress: “I’m now left with the decision: Do I prioritize my life? Do I prioritize my education? Do I prioritize my family?” For “GB,” who is on an educational exemption from Iran’s mandatory military service, the implementation of ICE’s directive would likely mean he must join the Iranian military.

“It is critical that international students have access to the same resources and freedom as their American counterparts, for the sake of their education, as well as their own safety,” said Mintz Member and Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee Susan Finegan. “The students that have bravely shared their stories for this amicus brief bear witness to the broad-reaching implications of this dangerous directive.”

Many of the international students featured in the brief have the potential to greatly contribute to the U.S. economy, including students pursuing doctorates in aerospace engineering, astronomy, public policy, applied sciences, medicine, and biology, among others.

“International students are a vital component of our country’s culture and economy, providing valuable ideas, perspectives, knowledge, and collaboration, and many eventually advance to become highly-skilled members of the U.S. workforce,” added Mintz Member and Founding Chair of the firm’s Immigration Practice Susan Cohen. “ICE’s inhumane directive would dreadfully impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of foreign students, as well as their non-foreign student communities.”

The Mintz team that provided pro bono legal counsel to amici curiae was led by Ms. Finegan, Ms. Cohen, and Associate Mathilda McGee-Tubb. Several other firm attorneys volunteered to assist with this important project as well.

The case is President and Fellows of Harvard College et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security et al., case number 1:20-cv-11283, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

To learn more about Mintz’s pro bono efforts, please click here.