- 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)
Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media
The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.
The Social Media Child Protection Act
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.
The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.
The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.
Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.
“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued.
“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”
While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.
The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.
Backlash and Support
Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.
Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.
“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.
Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.
“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”
Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.
“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,” he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.
A Growing Movement
Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.
In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding “the right age for a child to start using social media.”
“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”
Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”
His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”