- 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)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)
Biden Announces Executive Actions on Gun Violence
- President Biden unveiled several executive actions on Thursday to address gun violence in America, which he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.”
- Biden’s measures include new limits on “ghost guns,” which are built from separate parts and usually do not have traceable serial numbers, as well as stabilizing braces, which functionally turn pistols into more lethal weapons.
- Biden also said he would direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use in implementing “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement or family to petition a court to temporarily block a person in crisis from accessing firearms.
- The president characterized these actions as first steps, noting that congressional approval will be needed for his agenda and urging the chambers to take action.
Biden’s Plan for Gun Violence
President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions on Thursday aimed at addressing gun violence in America.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said in remarks from the Rose Garden. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Among other measures outlined, the president said he will tighten restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms built at home by buying individual parts or kits to assemble guns that often lack serial numbers, making them hard to identify and trace.
Another rule will require devices to meet the requirements of the National Firearms Act if they are marketed as a stabilizing brace that can functionally turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The alleged shooter who killed 10 people in Boulder last month appeared to have used a pistol with an arm brace, which Biden said made the weapon more stable and accurate.
Additionally, Biden will also direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use to enact “red flag” laws, which allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a court to temporarily ban a person in crisis from accessing firearms. He will also as require the agency to publish an annual report on firearms trafficking.
In addition to those actions, the president said that he will nominate gun control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director since 2015.
Finally, Biden also emphasized that his administration will invest in community violence intervention programs. That includes proposing $5 billion for the initiatives over the course of eight years as part of his infrastructure plan.
Mounting Press and Continued Gridlock
Biden’s announcement comes as he is facing pressure from gun control activists and Democrats to act on gun violence following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.
Many have also condemned the president for not making gun control a top priority for his first days in office, as he promised during his campaign.
According to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 57% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden has handled gun violence so far, and two-thirds “believe reducing gun violence should be a higher priority than protecting the right to own a wide variety of guns.”
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly pressured Congress to take action on gun violence, specifically pointing to two bills passed by the House last month. Both were dead on arrival in the divided Senate. In his remarks Thursday, the president characterized the actions he outlined as the first steps.
“This is just a start, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, it seems like we always have a long way to go.”
However, he also acknowledged that further, substantial action will require the approval of Congress, which he urged to close background check loopholes, ban assault weapons, and narrow protections for gun manufacturers from litigation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (USA Today)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Asked Trump’s White House for Blanket Preemptive Pardons
- The New York Times reported Tuesday that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Trump to preemptively pardon him and unknown congressional allies for any possible crimes they might have committed.
- The request reportedly happened the same time federal investigators started looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in violation of sex trafficking laws, though it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House were aware of the inquiry at the time.
- Gaetz denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the investigation, and Trump said the congressman had “never asked [him] for a pardon.”
Gaetz Scandal Deepens
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Donald Trump to grant blanket preemptive pardons for any crimes he or his other allies in Congress may have committed, according to a report from The New York Times published Tuesday.
Four people familiar with the matter told the outlet that the ask came around the same time Gaetz was publicly calling for broad pardons. About two weeks after Trump lost the election, the congressman publicly said that he should “pardon everyone” before he left office, or they would be targeted by the “radical left.”
At the time, federal investigators from the Justice Department had already begun looking into whether he had a previous sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws — revelations that surfaced last week — which Gaetz denied.
According to The Times, it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House knew he was under investigation at the time he allegedly made the request. The sources said he did not tell White House aides.
It is also unclear who else he sought a pardon for, though, as the outlet notes, “In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
The sources also said that aides told Trump about the request, though Trump himself released a statement Wednesday claiming he had not discussed the matter directly with Gaetz.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” he said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
A spokesperson for Gaetz also denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the DOJ investigation.
“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz — where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ — with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” the spokesperson said. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
Gaetz and Allies Ramp Up Rhetoric
Meanwhile, Gaetz has continued to go on the offensive in the last week since news of the sex trafficking investigation broke — a story The Times also first published.
Also on Tuesday, Talking Points Memo reported that Gaetz is now using allegations that he sex-trafficked a minor to raise money. In a screenshot of a campaign fundraising email published by the outlet, Gaetz accused The Times of publishing the allegations in an attempt to end his career, and accusing “the Left” of trying to drag his “dating life into their political attacks.”
So far, the growing scandal does not appear to be hurting the congressman’s image among Trump allies. While many have remained silent, Trump’s statement Wednesday about the pardon — his first public comment on any of the allegations — clearly implies that he still backs the congressman who has been one of his biggest allies.
The Flordia representative has also been asked to speak at a conservative women’s conference at Trump’s Miami golf course this Friday. In a tweet Tuesday, the organization said they were “honored” to have Gaetz speak at the event, despite the ongoing investigation.