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Mass. AG, 17 others sue Trump over foreign student rule

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined Yahoo Finance’s On The Move to discuss the Trump's foreign student rule and the measures the state is taking to protect international students.

Video Transcript

- Well, foreign university students are at risk in the United States right now from a new Trump administration effort to try to force them to return to their home countries if their universities and colleges are not doing any in-person instruction. That new attempted rule is the subject now of a lawsuit by a number of universities, as well as 17 states and the District of Columbia.

We're joined now by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, which is one of the parties of that lawsuit. That is Maura Healey. Attorney General, thank you very much for joining us. So why did Massachusetts, simply, decide to sign on to this lawsuit? I know a number of the universities affected who are also joining on to it are based in Massachusetts.

MAURA HEALEY: Look, this is a really big deal. And it's a really big deal not only in Massachusetts, but in states all across this country. Which is why I was really pleased to see so many other states join with Massachusetts in suing the Trump administration to stop this rule from going forward.

Let me tell you a little bit about the impact. First of all, we've got hundreds of thousands of international students attending schools all across this country. They're paying tuition, mostly full tuition and fees, unlike a number of our domestic students. So they essentially, subsidize, in many ways, other students.

But they're here. They're contributing to our academic environment. They're paying rent. They're working. They're contributing to our economy.

In fact, it's estimated that just looking at the states who joined with us and sued yesterday, it's estimated that international students attending schools in those states contribute $41 billion to the economy last year-- $41 billion. So this is a really detrimental rule. Not only for the international students, but for our colleges and universities who've made plans to have them continue with their education. And it's really bad for our economy.

- So one thing that strikes me is that the timeline on this ICE guidance is super tight. We have that hearing coming up at 3:00 PM today, and then Wednesday seems to be a deadline. What do you hope to achieve at the earliest? And also, just asking on behalf of the students, if there could be a situation that they could be actually deported.

MAURA HEALEY: Well, this is what's so upsetting for these students. And I stood with a number of them yesterday at a rally on this. They're trying right now to decide, do I sign a lease for the next year? Do I try to look to see if I can get a flight home? That's assuming that your flight is even-- there are flights even to your home country. And in many instances, there aren't right now because of the pandemic.

And so we want to get an order from the court as soon as possible to stop this rule from going forward. And, I think, intentionally, ICE only gave colleges and universities a week to decide after knowing that colleges and universities had spent weeks and months preparing ways to do remote learning, and ensure that students would be able to continue with their education.

And now they come in at the last minute and say, nope. That's not good. They completely disrupted how colleges and universities have been thinking about this.

And essentially, what this is about is two things. One, the Trump administration has always been about anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant policies. This is another example of that. Because essentially, it will force the deportation of so many hundreds of thousands of international students, potentially.

And second, this is about Donald Trump trying to find a way to show that come September, everything's OK in this country. And that we've beat coronavirus. And one way I think he hopes to do that is by showing that students are back at campuses that are open for in-person learning. And he's willing to do that against all the weight of the evidence any public health expert, including probably, any second grader, would tell you that the worst thing that we can do during this surging pandemic-- surging. I mean, it grows every day in this country-- is to force colleges and universities to reopen. And to put at risk-- at significant risk, deadly risk-- students and faculty and staff.

- So there was a recent report that said that a returning student from South Korea had already been stopped in San Francisco airport. I'm just wondering, has that happened in Massachusetts, yet? And if it happens, what kind of recourse can that student seek? And how would you deal with a situation like that?

MAURA HEALEY: Well, I think all of us state AGs are watching closely for those instances. I am aware of one instance in Massachusetts where a student was stopped at the airport. We want all of those instances reported to us. And again, we are in court fighting for those international students. Fighting for our colleges and universities. And frankly, fighting for our economy, as well as the rule of law.

Because, once again, this is an administration that just is ignoring the rule of law. And here, they're acting illegally. Because they've come out with a rule where they've offered no data and support, no sound policy, reason, or explanation in support. And under the Administrative Procedures Act, under US law, that's actually illegal. You can't make rules that way.

- Attorney General, you've had a busy couple of days. Because you have also just filed a lawsuit against the rideshare companies Uber and Lyft. It's similar-- as far as I can tell-- from what the lawsuit was in California. Basically saying that these companies should be treating their drivers as employees. They should be getting benefits, et cetera.

California was successful in that push. Talk to me about the case in Massachusetts. And whether you think you'll be successful.

MAURA HEALEY: Well, as of right now, no court has yet to decide this issue, which is whether a Uber or Lyft driver is actually, an employee as opposed to an independent contractor. And this is really important, and I'll tell you what.

These drivers, right now, if they're classified as independent contractors, they may not get minimum wage. And, in fact, many of these drivers aren't even getting minimum wage because they have to pay for their gas. They have to pay for their own insurance. They're not getting protections under basic wage and hour laws. So they're not getting paid overtime. They're not able to accrue the sick time that other employees are able to accrue.

And also, this isn't fair to other businesses who are doing things like making sure that they're paying into unemployment insurance. That they have workers compensation insurance for their workers. And so, this is a situation where basically, Uber and Lyft get to operate their billion dollar businesses as they wish to. And they get to pass all the risk onto drivers and also onto taxpayers who ultimately have to pick up and foot the bill when it turns out these workers get injured and need workers compensation or when they need unemployment.

Recently here in Massachusetts, we had to set up a whole separate unemployment assistance fund for gig drivers in this economy-- for Uber and Lyft drivers-- who weren't able to work. And because they had been misclassified by Uber and Lyft, didn't qualify for normal unemployment insurance. So it's a big deal in our state and in states across this country. And the industry really needs to look at the model under which it's operating, and conform its practices to laws in our states.

- Well, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, please, let's stay in touch as these lawsuits progress. And we can get some updates from you. Thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it on what, again, is a couple busy days for you.

MAURA HEALEY: Yeah, well, it is. And it's good to be with you. Thank you.

- Thank you. And [? RT, ?] thank you very much, as well.