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Harvard student reportedly denied entry to US as university sues to block ICE visa policy

Harvard campus buildings were reflected in the window of a Harvard store selling Harvard merchandise in March.
Harvard campus buildings were reflected in the window of a Harvard store selling Harvard merchandise in March.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A Harvard University student from Belarus has been barred from entering the United States, apparently because of new rules issued this week that deny visas to international students if their college classes all meet online in the fall, according to a lawyer for the Cambridge school.

In US District Court in Boston on Thursday, Bill Lee, a lawyer for Harvard, told Judge Allison Burroughs that the unnamed student had been turned away Wednesday from an airport in Minsk, according to Bloomberg News.

“He lost his ticket,” Lee said of the student, who previously attended Northfield Mount Hermon School in Western Massachusetts before entering Harvard as a freshman, according to Bloomberg. “He doesn’t know quite what to do.”

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A Harvard spokesman said he could provide no further information on the student.

Attorneys are set to return to court for a second status conference in the case via video conference Friday at 10 a.m., according to court documents.

Harvard and MIT filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking to block the policy Wednesday, two days after Harvard announced that it plans to offer all undergraduate classes online this fall.

MIT separately announced that it will invite only seniors to return to campus.

On Tuesday, President Trump slammed Harvard’s plan as “the easy way out” during a meeting at the White House where he pressured state and local officials to reopen schools for the fall.

MIT and Harvard filed the lawsuit in response to ICE guidelines that would force many international students to leave the country or transfer to another college if classes are held online, putting pressure on administrators to reopen campuses.

In meetings and public statements this week, Trump has made it clear that reopening schools and colleges is a high priority for his administration. On Tuesday, he said it is “ridiculous” that Harvard is offering online classes in the fall, despite recent spikes in coronavirus infections in many parts of the country.

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“I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, you want to know the truth,” the president said.

In a letter Thursday, US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, US Representative Ayanna Pressley, and other members of Congress urged the heads of ICE and Homeland Security to abandon the planned change.

“The proposed policy throws the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, and the operations of hundreds of colleges and universities, into uncertainty just weeks before the start of the fall term, to the detriment of the United States and its institutions of higher education,” lawmakers said in the letter.

“We are concerned that ICE’s guidance is motivated not by public health considerations,” they continued, “but rather by animus toward immigrants, by a goal of forcing schools to reopen even as COVID-19 cases are rising, and by a desire to create an illusion of normalcy during this unprecedented public health emergency.”

The planned change, they said, “demonstrates a callous disregard for the harm this policy inflicts on international students.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.