Many international students, including a large number of Cornellians, were recently compelled to register with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) when the agency expanded its list of countries whose citizens or nationals are required to register at its local offices.
The policy is officially in place to guard against the possibility of terrorists who may be staying in America on expired visas, as did the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks. However, it has triggered outrage throughout the country, including vocal protests outside a Southern California INS office. Many feel that the rights of these persons, mostly from Muslim countries, are being infringed upon. In some cases, the applicants have been detained or placed in INS holding cells due to irregularities in their paperwork.
Echoing the displeasure toward the new policy were several members of Cornell’s international community, including Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office.
“To date, I haven’t heard of any students being specifically detained by the INS,” O’Brien said. “However, [some] students had to apply for visas at the U.S. consulates in their home countries over Christmas break in order to re-enter the country. The state departments are really overwhelmed; a number of students are overwhelmed,” he added.
International students made up 16.4 percent of the overall student body last year. Of these, 1,900 came from Asia and Africa, where all 25 INS-targeted nations are located.
Leaders of many international student organizations have also voiced their protest against the INS policy.
“Personally, I think it’s disrespect, especially for Iranians … the [Sept. 11] hijackers were all from Saudi [Arabia], but the first country that had to register were Iranians,” said Ali Mahmoudoff grad, head of the Iranian Students Organization.
“To me it’s not reasonable; terrorists will not walk into INS to register with them. It is only targeting innocent people,” he added.
Daniel Keh ’03, head of the Korean Students Association, said that although there are almost no North Korean students studying in America due to the difficulty of procuring a visa, he believed that if there were they would indeed pose a threat.
“It is probably impossible for anybody who is not intimate with the development of the rift between North and South Korea to even contemplate the way Kim Il Sung thought or how Kim Jong Il thinks. They are not your typical dictators; they are beyond being ‘evil,’ and they should be feared. I don’t think Americans or the youth activists in South Korea really understand the scope of the threat,” Keh said.
Despite those sentiments, Keh said he sympathized with those students who were affected by the new policy.
“From my knowledge, graduate and undergraduate international students have been experiencing increased levels of stress as they have been worrying more about the INS, but the worst experience so far has probably only been longer wait times in getting clearance,” Keh said.
Mahmoudoff described his trip to the INS office as an inconvenience but not overly unpleasant.
“Yes, at Thanksgiving break I had to go to Albany, and they treated me very well. But I was fingerprinted and asked details about myself and my family,” he said.
O’Brien also described the negative impact the new policy was having on the University.
“International students make a great contribution to Cornell, and I don’t think any of our students pose any threat to the U.S. They are all here to study and pursue their academic goals. I think that this whole year has been extremely difficult for our international students; the INS has been generally unresponsive and unable to do a lot of the work that enables a lot of people to be here,” O’Brien said.
“We support reasonable security measures but we think that it should be done in a way that enables innocent people to go about their goals,” he added.
Keh summed up the controversy over the issue:
“While this patch may or may not have led to increased security, I believe that the problem does not lie nor will be solved through immigration law. There is great anti-U.S. sentiment worldwide and we, the United States, should try to proactively win favor among our international peers.”
The INS website divides the 25 nations into four categories based on the deadline for registration of each group. The first group, consisting of countries seen as posing the greatest threat of terrorism, includes Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria. In the second group are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The third group is comprised of U.S. allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, while the recently announced fourth group is made up of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait.
Archived article by Gautham Nagesh