A group of more than 16 international athletes, including 15 signed to play at UCLA who are unable to join their teams due to COVID-19-related immigration policies, are suing the United States government.
The lawsuit is against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and covers athletes from eight different countries who signed to play various sports, the Los Angeles Times’ Thuc Nhi Nguyen reported. One athlete is from Loyola Marymount and others have time to join.
The athletes want to be able to enter the country to play with their teams and hope for a hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals as early as Friday, per the Times.
COVID-19 immigration policies prevent athletes from arriving
The article focuses on Izzy Anstey, a 6-foot-4 forward who signed her letter of intent with UCLA in November 2019. She was supposed to already be with the Bruins, ranked No. 11 in the latest polls released Monday, for her freshman year.
Instead she is stuck in Melbourne, Australia.
In July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement changed its initial guidance to declare that foreign college students at U.S. colleges would not be allowed to enter or remain in the country if their school was going online only.
After backlash and a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ICE went back on its guidance, via NPR. It only applies to newly enrolled students, and not those returning to school.
Redshirt junior Chantel Horvat, a native of Geelong, Australia, can be in Los Angeles but Anstey and fellow Australian freshman Gemma Potter cannot.
Athletes file lawsuit to enter US
Kirk Pasich is the attorney representing the athletes. The lawsuit “calls the designation between first-year and returning international students ‘arbitrary,’ and treating them differently ‘would be capricious and not consistent with law,’” per the Times.
They were unable to get an injunction on Nov. 20, though a district judge ruled the “athletes were being irreparably harmed by the policy,” per the Times. It moved to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Pasich and the group filed a motion on Nov. 24 to expedite the hearing in appeals court — the government opposed it on Dec. 1 — but if it isn’t granted, the case could drag on until mid-January. That would mean many students lose out on their first year on campus with their teams.
Immigration laws impact programs, coaches
The immigration ruling has delayed freshmen’s entrance into their sports programs, though they are still taking classes from home and have the assistance of their athletic programs. The UCLA women’s basketball team is missing two athletes due to the policy and has only eight scholarship players due to other opt-outs.
For coach Cori Close, it isn’t about not having them produce on the court but how it hurts her to see what’s happened.
“I recruited them here, UCLA recruited them here, we asked them to join our family,” Close said, via the Los Angeles Times. “It is worn really heavy on me that they’re not here, because we’re the ones that asked them to come. We’re the ones that gave them a scholarship. We’re the ones that do that and the fact that I feel like a bureaucratic thing is getting in their way has just weighed heavy on me because I feel responsible.”
UCLA has 25 international freshmen signed to play on their 25 total varsity sports teams.
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