The Undergraduate Council unanimously adopted legislation on July 12 to join an amicus brief in support of the ongoing Harvard-MIT lawsuit against immigration authorities, alongside student body representative groups from 15 other universities.
The group’s unanimous vote to pass Act 38E-18 — sponsored by the UC’s Finance Committee Chair Mini Ganesh ’22, and co-sponsored by President James A. Mathew ’21, Vice-President Ifeoma E. “Ify” White-Thorpe ’21, and Secretary Nicholas J. Brennan ’23 — enables the Council to provide students’ testimonials and represent those individuals as part of the amicus brief led by Clifford Chance, the legal counsel representing students in the case. The firm is set to file in court tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Harvard and MIT filed the suit last week in a bid to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security from barring international students attending online-only classes from residing in the U.S.
The student testimonials the Council endorsed are aimed at nullifying the government’s potential claim that Harvard and MIT are unqualified to argue their case on the basis of not being directly affected by ICE’s order, Mathew said in an interview.
Mathew added he believes students’ stories would benefit Harvard and MIT by providing a more “emotional” and “human” edge to their argument in court.
“In this case, this external counsel — so that’s Clifford Chance in this case — has encouraged us that making this argument as human as possible can really make a difference and be effective,” he said.
Testimonials included in an amicus brief filed by a student government, such as the UC, would protect students’ anonymity — an aspect critical to ensuring the safety of participating students, Ganesh said during the Council’s Sunday afternoon meeting.
“For example, if a student is LGBTQ, and their family does not know this, and going back to their home country with that information could be dangerous for them, then that is a situation where we don’t want something like that to happen to any student who we represent,” Ganesh said.
Prior to the Council’s official endorsement of the amicus brief, Mathew and White-Thorpe sent an email to undergraduates Saturday linking a form for international students to provide their contact information to Clifford Chance as part of an effort to collect enough testimonials before Monday.
Twenty-nine Harvard students have completed the form, according to Mathew, though he anticipates many of these testimonials will be excluded from the fifteen-page brief featuring students from the other 15 universities.
Mathew also said Sunday that the Council’s involvement in the amicus brief signifies its commitment to the international students who constitute roughly 12 percent of the College and 20 percent of the University’s entire student body.
“It says that we stand with our international students and that they have a place here on campus. This is everyone's Harvard; it’s not just students-who-are-from-the-United States’ Harvard,” White-Thorpe said. “Harvard should be accessible to everyone. I think that's really kind of what we're saying with this amicus brief, that international students are imperative to our community at Harvard.”
In the event Harvard’s suit proves unsuccessful, White-Thorpe said she foresees the Council urging Harvard administrators to offer a one to two credit in-person course to international students, an option pursued by some other American universities in response to the order.
“What's happening is just not fair to them. The way that they're being ostracized is completely, completely unfair,” White-Thorpe said. “And the administration needs to acknowledge them. I think that they have, in terms of filing against ICE. But I think that there's more that we can do from an academic lens, to continue supporting our international students.”
From now until the case’s outcome, Mathew said he hopes other students will continue advocating for their international peers.
“If you know an international student, if you're friends with them, I think you should just be providing emotional support,” Mathew said. “A lot of this is out of our hands, in terms of what's going on in the courts. But I think just being there for the students and kind of providing that community is really key.”
—Staff writer Christina T. Pham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Christina_TPham.