- Following ICE’s announcement on Monday that it would revoke visas for international students at schools shifting to online-only formats, a number of colleges and universities have responded.
- While schools like Columbia quickly announced that they would begin offering hybrid models, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the policy.
- At the same time, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she expects K-12 public schools to be “fully operational” in the fall, and President Donald Trump has threatened to pull funding if they don’t.
Schools Move to Protect International Students
Colleges and universities are scrambling to protect their international students following a controversial move from U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement that threatens to deport those students taking only online classes in the fall.
For the Spring and Summer semesters, ICE temporarily eased existing rules that require international students to attend in-person classes and essentially limit them to only one online course each semester. On Monday, the agency announced that it would largely not be extending those flexibilities into fall, though it would still allow international students to take more online classes than normal.
Many schools are afraid to offer in-person classes with the COVID-19 pandemic still sweeping across the country. Because of that, many international students fear they will be deported, and if they are, they could face added difficulty traveling home considering current international travel restrictions, some of which could bar them from their own countries.
In response, Harvard and MIT filed a joint lawsuit against the Trump administration Wednesday in an attempt to seek a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from enforcing ICE’s policy.
“ICE’s action proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities…or the absence of other options for universities to provide their curricula to many of their international students,” the suit reads.
In a personal statement alongside the lawsuit, Harvard President Larry Bacow said the university “will not stand by to see our international students’ dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order.”
Other schools have worked to reassure their international students in different ways. New York University—which has the highest number of international students in the U.S—has stressed that its hybrid program would accommodate most of its international students.
However, it added that the new guidance from ICE “will be disruptive to some who will now be forced to rethink their fall schedules to ensure they include live classes.”
“Additionally, requiring international students to maintain in person instruction or leave the country, irrespective of their own health issues or even a government mandated shutdown of New York City, is just plain wrong and needlessly rigid,” school administration said in its statement on Tuesday.
Also in New York, Columbia University announced that it now plans to organize hybrid classes with both in-person and remote learning opportunities. It will also offer pop-up learning centers for students who can’t return to Columbia.
On the West Coast, Stanford—which had previously announced that it would hold mostly online classes—now said it will support international students. As to what that might look like, it hasn’t yet said.
At the University of California, Berkeley, students are reportedly trying to create a course for international students solely to circumvent this ICE policy. That news came after a student said they had found a faculty member willing to sponsor a class that would be “only for students who are international and need a physical component to remain in the United States.”
However, nothing has been confirmed by the university. For now, such a class remains only speculation. A number of people have also questioned how such a class would be drafted and if it would conflict with immigration fraud laws.
Still, before, that post was ultimately deleted, it was shared over 24,000 times, highlighting the attempts international students are making to try to find some way to remain in the country.
Many of those students are reportedly signing up for any in-person class they can find—even if it’s outside of their major or not a general education requirement. Others are reportedly trying to swap for in-person classes with American students as those classes fill up.
DHS Defends ICE Policy
Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, defended ICE’s policy Tuesday on CNN, repeatedly stressing that the agency was allowing more flexibility than it ever had before. Anchor Brianna Keilar pushed back against those claims, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic in an exceptional situation that requires great flexibility.
“So you’re basically forcing universities to reopen even if they have personally determined that they shouldn’t be doing that for public health reasons?” Keilar asked.
“Oh, we’re not forcing universities to reopen,” Cuccinelli responded, “however, if a university… if they don’t reopen this semester, there isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country. They should go home, and then they should return when the school opens. That’s what student visas are for, and we want to accommodate that for schools, and we’re working hard to do that.”
Keilar continued to hit back, saying that for some students, they will return home to countries with internet restrictions that might not allow them to appropriately conduct research or work for classes.
In the interview, Cuccinelli also said that this policy was designed, in part, to “encourage schools to reopen.”
DeVos: Schools “Fully Operational” By Fall
In recent days, the Trump administration has become increasingly adamant that public K-12 schools should reopen for the upcoming academic year.
“Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons!” President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday. “They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”
Trump continued to push for full reopenings in the fall on Tuesday, specifically criticizing Harvard for its plan to operate fully online.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “I think it’s an easy way out. I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves if you want to know the truth.”
“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools,” he added.
“We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s gonna be good for them politically and they keep the schools closed” — Trump suggests Democrats are using the coronavirus to conspire against him pic.twitter.com/WhBSE8tiOG— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 7, 2020
That idea was further pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos the same day, with DeVos saying, “Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how.”
“They must reopen, they must be fully operational,” she added. “And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.”
DeVos appeared to push for that hardline reopening plan, disavowing hybrid models that suggest students only physically go to school a few times a week.
“A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” DeVos told governors in a conference call.
“Students across the country have already fallen behind,” she added. “We need to make sure that they catch up. It’s expected that it will look different depending on where you are, but what’s clear is that students and their families need more options.”
DeVos also compared the coronavirus risk to “learning to ride a bike” and being “shot off in a rocket into space,” saying schools “already deal with risk on a daily basis.”
Vice President Mike Pence claimed on that call that if all schools remained closed into the upcoming academic year, the U.S. economy would take a $50 billion hit.
Trump continued to push for reopening schools Wednesday morning, saying he may cut off funding if they don’t open. In a tweet, he compared the situation in the U.S. with that of Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden; however, those countries have all managed to suppress the virus one way or the other.
In a follow-up tweet, Trump went on to say he disagrees with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to reopen, calling them “very tough & expensive.”
Currently, if a school wishes to reopen, the CDC recommends that desks should be six-feet apart, that groups of students stay together, and that students shouldn’t share objects. It also recommends a hybrid schedule, such as the one DeVos has criticized.
However, it also notes that wearing face masks will likely be challenging for students—especially younger ones—to wear all day.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “More and more data has been coming out around the severity of the illness, and the likelihood of infection for children, both of which are substantially lower than they are for adults.”
It now “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
The AAP lists several reasons for bringing children back to school, including potential negative impacts such as interruption of support services, as well as difficulty for schools to identify learning deficits, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and depression.
While there is some evidence to suggest children are less susceptible to the virus, it’s not clear how strong that evidence is. Some hypothesize that schools closing in the early stages of the pandemic could have helped to contribute to lower infection rates.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (Forbes) (The Hill)
Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say
- Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
- Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
- Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
- Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
- Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign.
U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.
“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”
Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them.
The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.
In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.
That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.”
“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.
Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.
But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.
Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.
Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.
Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.
As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.
Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims
It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.
Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.
Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.
“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.”
Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.”
Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.
This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.
That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”
“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.
The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.
“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.”
“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.
To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”
As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”
A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement.
“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott
- Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
- The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
- The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.
Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination
The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election.
Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare.
However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate.
Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.
What Comes Next?
As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.
By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.
If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.
See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)
Voters in 4 States Received Emails Threatening Them To “Vote for Trump or Else!”
- Democratic voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania received threatening emails telling them to vote for Trump or else the Proud Boys would “come after” them.
- The email came from a domain associated with the Proud Boys, but the group denied that it had any involvement and said that the website in question was no longer in use because it had been dropped by Google Cloud services.
- According to The Washington Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it left it unsecured, meaning anyone online could take control of it.
- Multiple outlets that reviewed the emails also reported that the messages did not come from the email address listed, but rather from foreign internet servers.
Registered Democrats in four different states — including three hotly contested swing states — were sent threatening emails Tuesday from an address that appeared to be affiliated with the far-right group the Proud Boys. The message warned recipients that if they did not vote for President Donald Trump, the group would “come after” them.
According to a screenshot of the email obtained by CBS News, the subject line of the message reads “Vote for Trump or else!”
“We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything),” the body of the email said. The sender went on to claim they know the recipient of the email is a Democrat because they “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.”
“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the email continued. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”
Outlets that obtained copies of the email also reported that it concluded with the home address of the recipients they were sent to. Currently, voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania have reported receiving the threatening messages.
It remains unclear how many went out in total, but it does appear that most of them were sent to people in Florida and Alaska. In Alaska, local news outlets reported that the emails went out to over a dozen people. In Florida, a University of Florida spokesperson said that they knew of at least 183 Floridians who got the messages.
Officials in both states also announced that they have launched investigations, and the FBI was also looking into the matter.
Proud Boys Deny Involvement
While the sender’s address is listed firstname.lastname@example.org, a domain associated with the Proud Boys, the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, immediately denied that they had any involvement.
“We don’t send emails. This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” he told reporters. “We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group.”
Tarrio also told The Washington Post that the group has been in the process of migrating from officialproudboys.com to another site. In fact, they said officialproudboys.com has not been used for weeks because that domain was recently dropped by a hosting company that uses Google Cloud services after concerns were raised about the group.
According to The Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it appeared to just be left unsecured, and thus “allowing anyone on the Internet to take control of it and use it to send out the menacing messages.”
Numerous outlets that reviewed the emails also said that they did not come from the email address that was displayed, but rather from foreign internet servers. According to CBS, the metadata from the emails they analyzed showed that the messages originated from IP addresses connected to servers in Estonian, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
While experts noted that the IP addresses do not necessarily mean that the senders were based in those countries because they could have routed the emails from almost anywhere, some cybersecurity experts have pointed to the possibility of foreign interference to sow chaos in the election.
“We’re 2 weeks from the last day to vote! This is also the perfect time for adversaries to create chaos by spreading bogus claims or overstating activity,” Chris Krebs, the director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeting, noting that his office was aware of the emails.
“Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law in all states,” he continued. “These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections.”