Trump admin retreats on restrictions for international students

The Trump administration announced a counter-productive policy that would've stripped many international students of their visas. Today, Team Trump caved.
A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Mass.
A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Mass.Maddie Meyer / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

When it comes to immigration policy, Donald Trump and his team have taken a wide variety of misguided steps, from the cruel to the ridiculous. Last week, however, the president went in a direction that was counter-productive in ways that were bizarre, even for him.

Every year, the United States welcomes many international students who, at least traditionally, have been eager to study at American colleges and universities. These tend to be some of the smartest young people in the world, and we welcome them, not just for their interests, but for ours: as Ali Velshi explained on the show last night, we want them to come to the United States, contribute to American businesses, advance American research and innovation, etc.

But as many higher-ed institutions go online for coursework during the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican administration made an unfortunate announcement last week: international students would lose their visas and be expected to leave the United States.

Harvard and MIT quickly filed suit. It wasn't long before more than 200 American universities backed the legal challenge to the administration's directive. Yesterday, 18 attorneys general filed a suit of their own, calling Trump's policy a "cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action."

Today, opponents of the policy won -- not because a judge ruled in their favor, but because the administration retreated.

Facing blowback and lawsuits, the Trump administration is rescinding its directive blocking international students from staying in the United States while taking online-only classes. U.S. District Court Judge Allison Dale Burroughs in Massachusetts announced Tuesday that the government and plaintiffs had reached a resolution in a lawsuit brought by Harvard University and MIT.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said of today's developments, “The government backed down completely."

Ideally, this wouldn't have happened in the first place, and the fact that the Trump administration even tried to pursue such a course reflected poorly on the country. That said, it's heartening that federal officials apparently had the sense to quit while they were behind.

In some circles, Team Trump has developed a reputation as a group of hard-headed and tenacious officials who never back down. The truth, however, is that these guys find it necessary to cave all the time.