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June 22, 2000
INS plays big brother
It is apparently fear of terrorism that makes the Immigration and Naturalization build a database on foreign students. But did it have to make those under watch pay $ 95 for the privilege of being kept under scrutiny?
According to the Pittburgh Post-Gazette, the government has taken this step, fearing that about half-a-million foreign students now studying in the US could pose a terrorist threat.
The plan apparently envisages tracking information about the students, including course loads, the work they do and whether they shift majors.
So the foreign students may have to pay an extra $ 95 for the watch being maintained on them and the fee could even be imposed this fall, once the US Congress decides how the money should be collected.
Many foreign students are their teachers are upset at the plan and say it unfairly singles out a section of students.
"It doesn't make you feel welcome," says Oby Obidi, who's working toward a master's degree in the H John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon told the Post-Gazette. "It makes you feel uncertain. Are you being watched?"
The INS is putting the database together on the basis of the requirements of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, 1996, itself passed in response to the World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured 1,000 others in 1993.
In that case, the man accused of driving the bomb-laden truck, Eyad Ismoil, had entered the country on a student visa to study at Wichita State University. He remained in the country after dropping out of school.
While the INS does collect information about foreign students, improper management of it makes it nearly impossible to keep track of students.
"We're singling out a group of foreigners who pose a threat to the national security of the United States," said Allen Kay, a spokesman for Texas representative Lamar Smith, a Republican and head of the House Subcommittee on Immigration who helped write the 1996 legislation.
He said the INS estimates that 40 percent of those living illegally in the United States at one time carried legitimate visas of some kind. It's not known how many came as students, but Kay said the World Trade Center bombing showed how the nation's open campuses can be used by foreign criminals.
"An individual can get a student visa, come to the U.S., never enroll in the university they intended to and then go on their merry way," he said. "Should we wait for another bombing before we take steps to protect the American public?"
Under the act, the information collected will include addresses, the kind of visa held, whether the students are enrolled full or part time, and if any action taken against them for a criminal act, said INS spokesperson Eyleen Schmidt.
Next: ICJ rejects Pak plea on four counts
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