We obtained a significant victory on behalf of Johns Hopkins University in a lawsuit filed against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking emergency injunctive relief against a Directive which would have threatened to strip millions of international students in the United States of their F-1 visa status.
The July 6, 2020 Directive issued by ICE reversed prior March 2020 Guidance, which—“for the duration of the [COVID-19] pandemic”—permitted F-1 students to remain in the country even as all of their classes transitioned online. The July Directive would have nullified the March Guidance, despite the ongoing COVID-19 emergency and would have forced F-1 students taking an entirely online course load to leave the country. The Directive would also have mandated that universities certify within barely a week whether they would transition entirely online for the fall term.
The Directive would have had a colossal impact on universities, as well as the hundreds of thousands of F-1 students in the United States. For universities, the Directive would have required a decision within nine days whether they intended to proceed entirely online in the coming semester—upending multiple months and thousands of hours of planning by schools who had carefully planned out their curricula in reliance on the March Guidance. For Johns Hopkins, it would have meant having to suddenly revise a plan to proceed entirely online after Thanksgiving—based on careful study and consultation with leading health experts. This was all the more jarring in light of Johns Hopkins’ status as a leader in the global battle against COVID-19, including the coronavirus world map, which multiple government entities (including DHS) had used themselves (and which, notably, was developed by F-1 visa holders).
And the Directive would have been devastating for many students. For those enrolled at institutions that had decided to transition entirely to remote learning in the fall; for those with health conditions putting them in an especially high-risk category in the event of contracting COVID-19; and for those whose schools may have been later ordered to comply with shutdown orders from state or local governments in the event of an autumn resurgence of the virus, the Directive effectively would have forced them to undertake international travel on little notice and to lose their visa status.
Quinn Emanuel filed a complaint within a few days of the Directive and sought a TRO and PI, asserting multiple bases for enjoining the directive, including Administrative Procedure Act, Due Process, and First Amendment academic freedom principles. Multiple parallel suits were filed by other universities and over 17 states (joined by hundreds of amici). At first, the government appeared to be prepared to proceed in these suits, filing opposition briefs in parallel cases. But after Quinn Emanuel filed its forceful and compelling TRO/PI papers—which included declarations from multiple affected students and causes of action not asserted in other suits—the government capitulated, agreeing to rescind the July 6 Directive even before the motions could be heard.
The government’s agreement to return to the March 2020 Guidance will enable international students to continue to pursue their studies in the United States and will permit Johns Hopkins and countless other schools to continue to provide education in the manner best suited to the academic and public health needs of their students and communities. For these efforts, Crystal Nix-Hines, Derek Shaffer, and Bill Burck received Honorable Mention in AmLaw’s Litigator of the Week.