California Accuses ICE of Forcing Students to Choose Health or Education

California is the first state to sue the Trump administration over a new rule barring international students at universities and colleges with online-only courses during the pandemic from staying in the country.

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra against the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, as well as their leadership, the state accused the Trump administration of forcing students to choose between their health and their education.

"Simply put, the Administration acted illegally in forcing students to choose between pursuing an education and their health and wellbeing," Becerra's office said in a press release.

While the lawsuit branded the new rule "cruel," it also said the policy shift was unlawful, accusing ICE of violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates how agencies can establish regulations.

The government's "attempt at a policy change to force in-person learning in the middle of a pandemic is absurd and the essence of arbitrary and capricious conduct in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)," the lawsuit states.

"If that were not enough, Defendants have failed to follow the procedures for notice and comment rulemaking required by the APA prior to enforcing and implementing this policy," it says.

The same argument has been made in a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with the schools asserting that the Trump administration violated the APA by failing to adequately notify the public and providing justification for the rule.

In a statement to the Harvard community, Harvard President Larry Bacow said the order "came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness."

"It 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," he said.

California is believed to have the highest number of international students in the U.S., with nearly 185,000 in the state in January 2020, according to DHS data.

"Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well," Becerra said in a statement shared with Newsweek.

"Today, President [Donald] Trump appears set to do just that—amidst a global pandemic of historic proportions. Not on our watch. No one graduates more students from college or assembles a more talented and diverse group of future leaders than California," he said.

The state's lawsuit, Becerra added, "rests on America's enduring principle that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can earn a chance to get ahead. We'll see the Trump Administration in court."

Newsweek has contacted the DHS and ICE for comment.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra
California attorney general Xavier Becerra (right) speaks as California Gov. Gavin Newsom (left) looks on during a news conference at the California justice department on September 18, 2019 in Sacramento, California. California has sued the Trump administration over its new policy affecting international students. Justin Sullivan/Getty