UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon: Federal authorities, facing eight lawsuits, have reversed a policy that would have sent immigrant students whose classes went online-only back to their home countries.

New Jersey has joined 18 other states in a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, looking to block a new directive that would force international students attending college in the United State to return home if they cannot attend class in person.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the directive was issued without the required public notice and comment period, and endangers students by forcing them into classrooms and potentially increasing the spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE said the new policy is backed by existing law forbidding foreign students from taking all of their classes online. ICE suspended the rule in March in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, but the agency told universities it was subject to change, according to a Monday court filing from the Trump administration.

Many colleges in New Jersey including Princeton, Rutgers and TCNJ have announced plans to hold most classes online during the fall academic semester due to the pandemic.

Grewal said Rutgers alone has 6,000 international students.

J. Michael Gower, university treasurer at Rutgers, said in a statement that is part of the lawsuit that Rutgers could suffer financial losses of $200 million or more “in the 2020-2021 academic year alone” if the ICE directive stands.

“This ICE directive puts the lives of all of our students at risk by using international students and the tuition they pay as leverage to force colleges and universities to start in-person classes before they are ready,” Grewal said in a statement. “It is reckless, irresponsible, immoral, and illegal.”

Other states part of the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Grewal said the suit is one of at least four other lawsuits have been filed. Rutgers and 200 other schools have joined a lawsuit filed by Harvard University.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in the case brought by Harvard and MIT. If the judge does not suspend the rule, colleges across the U.S. will have until Wednesday to notify ICE if they plan to be fully online this fall.

President Donald Trump has pushed for a return to the classroom by schools and threatened to withhold funding for states that did not.

“I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s an easy way out and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said of Harvard University's decision to hold all classes online.

(Includes material copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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