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And now they come for the students...: from computerized tracking to fee hikes, the government is cracking down on America's immigrant students. (Report).

Part of the government's "new and improved" xenophobic hysteria is now to step up its plans to control foreign students in this country. The Bush Administration announced in early May that they are accelerating the implementation of a computerized system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In December 2001, Congress approved $36.8 million to build and refine SEVIS and has given the INS until January 2003 to have it in full operation. Using this system, colleges and universities must report the names, addresses, enrollment status, and majors of all foreign students. The system includes methods of tracking all the classes that foreign students take, supposedly to catch students who violate their visas by enrolling in classes less than half-time. SEVIS will open up all sorts of possibilities for spying on foreign students, especially those who are politically active on campus or involved in academic pursuits or cultural and social clubs deemed "suspicious."

Arrested Education

We don't know if any colleges are currently turning over information leading to the arrests of current detainees, such as the thousands detained in the months following September. But there are rumors among staffers in administration offices that the FBI has already viewed student records at Hunter College, although the City University of New York (CUNY) system denies handing over any records. Chris Day, manager of the Student Resource Center at Hunter, says he saw two suited men who "looked like they were straight out of central casting FBI" in the company of campus security officials during the fall semester. "The first time I saw them, they were being led around by the head of Hunter security. They went to the Muslim Students Association Office, they came here, checking things out. Later they came to a rally on immigrant tuition hikes." When Day asked a top CUNY security official who they were, he was told that they worked for CUNY security.

With the shroud of secrecy that keeps most facts about INS detentions a mystery, there are only a few known cases of students who have been arrested and held. About 20 FBI agents arrested Reem Khalil, a senior biochemistry major at the City College of New York, and her family, according to the CUNY Messenger, early in the morning on February 27. After being separated and questioned in relation to unfounded terrorism charges, Khalil, her mother, father, and two teenaged brothers were all turned over to INS and held in separate detention for two and a half months. The Khalils are Syrian and have been living in the U.S. for years, but they are undocumented. Apart from her two youngest siblings, who were born in the U.S., Khalil and the rest of her family now face the threat of deportation.

Yazeed Al-Salmi is a legal resident from Saudi Arabia who enrolled at Grossmont Community College in eastern San Diego Country. He was arrested in September and detained for 17 days without charges. Two other students were arrested May 30: activists Ahmed Bensouda in Urbana, Illinois, and Jaoudar Abouazza in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As is typical with INS arrests, it took several days to locate Bensouda, and both the INS and FBI have questioned him repeatedly. When a small group of supporters tried to attend his first immigration court hearing, the judge asked them to leave, saying it was a closed hearing. His next immigration hearing, when the judge will hear secret evidence, is also closed. On recent visits with Bensouda, friends say that he was behind glass with chains around his wrists and ankles. Although the official word is that he is being held for a visa violation, the government's real case against him and their secret evidence will not be subject to public scrutiny.

Restricting Access

Foreign students have already been on a heightened state of alert for many months now. Since September 11, many universities and colleges that had once resisted the proposed tracking system since the 1996 passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act have now complied. The INS has also been using this time to develop SEVIS and prepare for its implementation and enforcement. The 1996 legislation includes another measure that many schools have not used until now. Due to restrictions of benefits for undocumented immigrants, students who are not legal residents or student visa holders cannot receive higher education assistance. This means that undocumented students cannot attend public colleges at in-state tuition rates, even if they have been living in that state for their entire lives. Undocumented students whose families had been working in low-wage service jobs and contributing to the New York economy for more than 10 years told us they've had to rethink their plans for an educat ion, something that they had counted on for many years.

City University of New York has long been known as one of the best educational options for both documented and undocumented immigrant students. CUNY was one of the few schools to knowingly allow an undocumented student to be admitted or not require proof of legal status. They also allowed immigrant students to pay in-state tuition, which is half the amount of foreign student tuition. Recently, however, the administration sent letters to all the students they knew to be undocumented, informing them that they will be charged foreign student tuition starting in the spring semester of 2002. The letter advised them to discuss their immigration status with specific officials, but many undocumented students stayed away from the immigrant "help centers" mentioned in the letter. As one Colombian immigrant student, a New York City resident for the last 18 years, said, "Which undocumented student do you think will go to talk to them? If they can increase our tuition, do you think we will trust them?" Another student sai d that she and other immigrants she knew would not go to a help center for fear of being deported.

The spring semester has seen a declining number of immigrant enrollments. Although the administration has not released an official number, estimates range from around 1,000 to 2,600 CUNY students who have not returned in the spring semester. But the numbers do not tell the whole story. According to City College Professor William Cram, a vocal opponent of the immigrant tuition hikes, many students took a hardship deferral but cannot continue if proposed state legislation to allow in-state tuition does not pass in their favor. Still others have enrolled in fewer classes and will take longer to graduate. Some students have also transferred to community colleges. The increased scrutiny is deterring countless numbers of undocumented immigrants who may no longer view higher education as possible.

There is no question that the experience of immigrant students has been markedly different since September. Hunter College's Muslim Students Association has weekly graffiti posted on their door. The first one came shortly after September 11, a cartoon depicting suicide bombers. Others include "Remember 9/11" with a picture of a cross, drawn on the door with marker. The latest one read "God Bless America." One MSA officer said the graffiti is so frequent that they don't bother reporting it to the administration anymore. And although many Muslim students say they feel less isolated at CUNY than they might on other campuses, the threatened tuition hikes and new tracking system have put a chill in the air.

The Palestine/Israel conflict and the U.S. war on Afghanistan have also polarized student opinion on campuses. One incident erupted at Hunter College when a woman angrily tore down anti-war flyers and a Muslim student challenged her right to do so. A Brooklyn College Muslim student named Saba Gilani was targeted for disciplinary action after she tried to stop flyers from being torn down, which led to a charge of physical assault. Even though no physical altercation occurred, Brooklyn College officials tried to convince her to admit to pushing another student.

Anti-Immigrant Agenda

Although officials say SEVIS and the immigrant tuition hikes are unrelated, these policies point to an overall anti-immigrant agenda. A steady procession of anti-immigrant proposals has come down the policy conveyer belt since September, from tuition hikes to military tribunals to the recent Justice Department proposal to fingerprint thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders. To the Bush Administration, immigrants represent a potentially dangerous force, offering an international perspective that directly counters the sentiment of the president's September 20 speech: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." With campuses a possible hotbed of activism, it is especially in the government's interest to limit potential anti-war influences among students.

Legally, there are few barriers to stop the Justice Department and INS from arresting students based on information provided by their institution and holding them without due process. The importance and impact of SEVIS should not be underestimated. This tracking system can potentially turn the United States educational system into a network of spies, and without a united, diverse, and determined movement to resist the repression being carried out in the name of national security, there is no reason to think that the arrests and detentions will stop or slow down.

RELATED ARTICLE: An Update on Detention Organizing

Various mobilizations have dealt with the scapegoating of immigrants on different levels, from weekly protests at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center and other actions organized by groups like Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Prison Moratorium Project, and the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants, to the formation of the CUNY for All Coalition, which has been organizing against immigrant tuition hikes. Refuse and Resist of Hawaii has taken on SEVIS as one of their main campaigns.

A recent national summit to stop the repression against Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants was held in Dearborn, Michigan, the site of the highest concentration of Arabs in the United States. Here the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) of Dearborn, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU, La Resistencia in Texas (an organization that mobilizes against various attacks on immigrants), and a host of other organizations discussed a national plan of action to stop the roundups and detentions. One participant, an immigrant who asked to remain anonymous, explained," In terms of the anti-repression movement, there hasn't really been a nationwide effort yet. There have been pocketed local groups trying to work against it, but the repression itself is by the federal government. It's a national effort. What we need is a movement of noncooperation that is also on a national scale. "The outcome of the summit is a coalition called the Blue Triangle Network, named for the symbol of stateless people in Nazi Germany. The coalition is undertaking a number of projects, including a clearinghouse of information on detentions and legislation and a campus organizing project.

Chaiti Sen is a writer, researcher, and teacher from New York.
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Title Annotation:difficulties for foreign students since the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks
Author:Sen, Chaiti
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Previous Article:Racefile.
Next Article:Ethnic media grows up: will increasing mainstream attention alter the ethnic media landscape? (Report).

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