Over 200,000 Sign Petitions Demanding ICE 'Let International Students Stay'

More than 200,000 people have signed petitions calling on the Trump administration to reverse its new policy barring international students attending colleges and universities only offering online courses from staying in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced that students currently in the U.S. on F-1 and M-1 visas "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status."

Anyone found violating the rules, ICE said, would risk "immigration consequences, including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings."

The decision received swift condemnation, with at least two petitions sprouting up online and receiving tens of thousands of signatures by the next day.

One petition addressed to the White House had received 175,584 signatures by Wednesday morning.

The Trump administration's new policy, the petition said, is "counterproductive," particularly when it comes to promoting safety amid the coronavirus outbreak and helping the U.S. economy recover from the pandemic.

"International students contribute [around] $41 billion dollars to the US economy every year," the petition states, adding that U.S. universities and research programs also "depend on revenue from international students to survive."

Further, the petition states, the rule may push universities and colleges to "prematurely open in-person instruction," putting students, professors and other workers at risk of contracting COVID-19.

"We request that ICE rescind their decision to force international students back to their home countries in the midst of a pandemic," the petition states.

Meanwhile, a separate petition titled "let international students stay" and published on Change.org had reached more than 61,000 signatures by Wednesday morning.

The new policy, that petition said, would cause major upheaval to students' lives during an already difficult time for many people in the U.S. and around the world.

"Many students have already signed leases and will be forced to pay for housing which they will not be residing in," the petition states. "Furthermore, with the time differences overseas, attending live classes will be difficult for these students."

Signatures for both petitions grew on Wednesday as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the new policy.

The two schools have argued that the Trump administration failed to abide by the Administrative Procedures Act, which dictates how agencies can establish regulations, in rolling out the policy.

By failing to properly notify the public, as per the APA, and failing to provide a reasonable basis for the rule, Harvard President Larry Bacow said he believed the policy was "illegal."

"The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness," Bacow said in a statement to the Harvard Community, which was shared with Newsweek. "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."

"We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation," the Harvard President said.

Newsweek has contacted ICE for comment.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement building is seen in Washington, D.C. on May 09, 2019. Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions calling on ICE to reverse a new policy barring international students taking online classes only at universities and colleges from staying in the country. EVA HAMBACH/Getty