Proposal to affect foreign students Bill
A plan to make immigration more secure would deny visas to some
wishing to study here

By Sharyn Obsatz, Claire Vitucci and Matthew Tresaugue
The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.), October 26, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Students from countries that sponsor terrorism would be banned from studying in the United States, under immigration reforms proposed Thursday by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her bill intends to strengthen authorities' ability to keep tabs on people passing through the nation's borders and airports.

"It's becoming very clear that without an adequate tracking system, our country becomes a sieve . . . an ample opportunity for terrorists to enter and establish their operations without detection," said Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate terrorism subcommittee.

Under her plan, universities would be required to more closely monitor foreign students. It also requires the Immigration and Naturalization Service to do background checks on foreigners applying for student visas. The bill, sponsored both by Feinstein, a Democrat, and Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., could be introduced as soon as next week. It drew mixed reaction from students, university leaders, immigrant advocates and immigration opponents.

Some fear it could invite discrimination and infringe on student rights.

"It's too general, too broad," said Cristina Perez Gonazales, Los Angeles chairwoman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Southern California chapter.

Illegal immigration opponents say the proposal does not go far enough to stop people from sneaking across U.S. borders.

"We try to be Mr. Good Guy and look what happens to us. We have to protect our people that are already here," said Marlene Zamberlin, a Norco retiree.

Right or wrong targets?

There are about 8 million illegal immigrants in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau calculations. The INS estimates 59 percent came into the country illegally while 41 percent stayed after their visas

Feinstein's prior plan for a six-month ban on student visas drew fire from education officials. Her new proposal would ban issuing student visas to people from countries on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, North Korea and Cuba.

Yet 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Alleged mastermind Mohammed Atta was from Egypt. Neither country is on the State Department list.

Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who sits on the House immigration subcommittee, said some form of Feinstein's bill could pass Congress early next year.

"You put everything in and we can take out that which we choose is not cost-effective, not needed or not constitutional," said Issa, who represents part of Temecula.

Issa said he is concerned about her proposal to exclude foreigners based on the countries they come from rather than looking at who they are.

Feinstein has called the Sept. 11 attacks a "colossal failure" of the U.S. visa system. Thirteen of the 19 hijackers, including Atta, entered the country legally.

One hijacker had entered to attend an Oakland college but never showed up for class, according to reports.

Amir Kaeni, an American citizen studying business at UCR, would like his 19-year-old brother in Iran to have the same opportunity to study in the United States. Feinstein's bill would force him to find some way other than a student visa to bring his brother here.

"We're asking for a higher education. But we can't study here because of where we're from," he said. "That's racism."

Some educators say students from countries hostile to the United States make the best ambassadors when they return home.

Pros and cons

The American Council on Education has said universities and colleges would help authorities monitor foreign students more closely. Under the Feinstein proposal, colleges and universities must provide the INS with quarterly reports on foreign students; notify authorities if they are disciplined or arrested; and tell the INS if they fail to enroll or withdraw from school.

Feinstein is seeking $ 32 million to finance a student visa database first proposed after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Since then, only a few educational institutions have implemented it because of resistance over cost.

Satish Tripathi, dean of UCR's engineering college, said he worries whether students would receive visas promptly.

More than half of the roughly 200 graduate students in the engineering college are foreigners. Too few Americans apply for the positions, so without foreigners, research would be stalled, UCR officials said.

Juan Jose Salgado, Mexico's consul in San Bernardino, said the provision to add workers at U.S. consulates and ports of entry would mean shorter waits to cross the border legally.

But undocumented workers who use phony credentials would be hurt by the bill's call for creation of more fraud-proof documents.

The United States still must do more to secure its borders and discourage businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, said Steven Camarota, research director with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think-tank opposed to illegal immigration.

"If a Mexican day laborer can sneak across the border, so can one of (Osama) bin Laden's terrorists," Camarota said.

The proposal

The proposal calls for government to:

Create a database of visa holders, non-U.S. citizens.

Implement a SmartVisa card with biometric data like fingerprints.

Require that federal identification documents, such as Social Security, be fraud-resistant and include biometric data.

Require background checks on foreigners seeking students visas.

Require schools to report absences by foreign students.

Stop student visas for citizens of countries suspected of sponsoring terrorism.

Require countries whose citizens can enter the United States without visas to provide tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports in 60 days.

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