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Tracking trouble. (Letters).

We at the INS were amused to read that somehow I'm working to undermine the new student tracking system ("Borderline Insanity," May). That's because I read the article en route to a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget to speed the proposed regulation to implement the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the new student tracking system. We have been working around the clock to get SEVIS operational as soon as possible. Moreover, in recent weeks INS has put forward a series of sensible measures that significantly tighten the foreign student process.

Contrary to the premise of the article, since Commissioner Jim Ziglar and I came to INS, the student tracking system has proceeded at its fastest pace to date. The regulation on student tracking was published on May 16, and schools will start being enrolled in SEVIS this summer. These facts undermine the whole point of the article.

Confessore's contention that when I worked on the Senate Immigration Subcommittee I was heavily involved in preventing the student tracking system that eventually became SEVIS is ridiculous. In four years, I spent perhaps six to eight hours total on this issue and even that involved the narrow issue of who collected the fee on foreign students--the schools or the Justice Department--not whether there should be a system or even what the system should do.

The contention that SEVIS is not as good as another potential approach is a matter of conjecture. The article references the pilot program called CIPRIS that the INS ran for two school years (1997-1999). The CIPRIS pilot was just that--a pilot--an opportunity to test some concepts. In fact, the INS applied what was learned from the pilot to SEVIS.

I declined to be interviewed for the article because I suspected an agenda and that's precisely what I found. The article also attributed to me an alleged statement about "Gestapo tactics" that I never made. That quotation came from a secondary source and was never verified with our public affairs office.
Executive Associate Commissioner,
Policy and Planning, Immigration and
Naturalization Service

If it weren't so slanderous, I would have found Nicholas Confessore's article a fascinating throwback to the McCarthy era. The notion that NAFSA "sprang into action" in response to the 1996 law is laughable. Many of our members did have serious reservations about the student tracking system. Some, including one you quoted, "loved it." But when I took this job in February 1998, we were so consumed by this debate that springing into action about anything was impossible. Never during the INS's Maurice Berez's tenure running the foreign-student monitoring program did NAFSA take an official position.

I have never heard any member worry that a student tracking system would mean "fewer jobs for foreign student advisers," and I do not believe such fear exists. For the record, NAFSA never sought Berez's removal, and I never met with Commissioner Meissner on this or any other matter.

What united virtually every higher education group against the $95 fee was opposition to the government's attempt to enlist universities as fee collectors.

Terrorists caused the events of September 11; universities and their "lobbyists" didn't.
Executive Director and CEO, NAFSA

As members of the original CIPRIS task force, former members of the NAFSA Board of Directors, and individuals with substantial experience in international education, we can shed a bit more light on the topic raised in Confessore's article.

With the exception of a few factual errors, the article is substantially correct. NAFSA as an association was diametrically opposed to the original tracking system that CIPRIS was creating, working hard to postpone it, derail it, and make it less accountable and therefore less effective. While a small core of leaders worked closely with Berez to develop a workable tracking system, most members and leaders of the association worked publicly against it, opposing the $95 fee and even the very concept of a tracking system. Finally, NAFSA members generally did not believe that there was a genuine threat that terrorists, using student visas, would attack the United States. Their opposition provided a constant challenge to the original CIPRIS task force. In fact, a good deal of the task force's creative energy was spent trying to overcome the objections of the NAFSA membership. Unfortunately, NAFSA leadership remained unconvinced. Johnson took her cue from them and from the consensus of the association and did indeed lobby for Berez's removal from the project. It was an effective way of derailing the project.

Would CIPRIS have succeeded where previous INS attempts to monitor foreign students failed? Absolutely. Could CIPRIS have prevented the events of September 11? There is, of course, no way of knowing. But the program was designed to collect and monitor information that was instrumental to the tragedy--money and flight schools. Confessore's article provides a helpful glimpse into what became a costly public policy failure.
Associate Dean, Modern College of Business
and Science, Sultanate of Oman

President, Foreign Credentials Service of
America, Austin, Texas

Nicholas Confessore replies: Almost every thing in Anderson's letter is contradicted not just by my article, but also by the recent report of the Department of Justice's inspector General, which found that SEVIS has serious flaws and is unlikely to be up the date Anderson promises.

I made two errors of fact that should be corrected. Robert Bach does

not work at the Ford Foundation, but the Rockefeller Foundation--he performed a multiyear study of recent immigrants under a Ford grant during the early 1990s; hence my confusion. The other is the date of Maurice Berez's removal from the INS student-tracking project. An editing error leads the reader to believe he was removed in the fall of 1998. He left at the beginning of 2000.
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Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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