A Harvard Law School graduate on campus before attending an online graduation ceremony on May 28. Photo: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Harvard and MIT on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to block federal guidance that would largely bar foreign college students from taking classes if their universities move classes entirely online in the fall.

The big picture: Colleges, which often rely heavily on tuition from international students, face a unique challenge to safely get students back to class during the coronavirus pandemic. Some elite institutions, like Harvard, have already made the decision to go virtual.

  • The schools argued in their complaint that the guidance, issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States" and would "undermine the education, safety, and future prospects of their international students and their campus community."
  • They requested a temporary restraining order to block the rules, which is likely to prompt a relatively quick ruling from a federal judge.

What they're saying: Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote that the guidance "appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others."

  • "Moreover, if an institution pursues in-person or hybrid instruction this fall and a serious outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, the institution would face strong pressure not to switch to online instruction, as Harvard and others necessarily did this past March, because to do so would immediately place its international students in jeopardy," he added.
  • ICE deputy press secretary Carissa Cutrell said the agency was unable to comment on pending litigation.

Read the complaint.

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