I have written previously about the controversy with Richard Berthold at the University of New Mexico in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. My notes also showed the increased repression on campus, by the state and the right wing. One area it increased was its targeting of immigrants, and especially foreign students.
Right after the attacks, The Bush administration requested sweeping anti-terrorism authority, including expanded wiretap power for terrorist suspects, indefinite detention of legal immigrants and provisions to compel universities to provide information about students without a subpoena. Most of these powers were put into law through the USA PATRIOT Act.
The main target of the USA PATRIOT Act were immigrants, oppressed nationalities, and activists. The US government launched the largest roundup of so-called aliens since World War II, detaining thousands of immigrants. The FBI was free to target other activists, even people having conversations about foreign policy. But the main target were immigrants. As many immigrants were students, the universities became a main target of repression. (Foreign student made up just 3.9 percent of the 14 million college students nationwide. 3,761 students were from Libya, Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Cuba, all nations on the State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. Many came after leaving their homes and living in exile.) Federal agents targeted college campuses in their investigations on the terrorists, gathering lists of foreign nationals and combing through school fines.
There was rumors that at least one of the hijackers and some accomplices were in the country on student visas. It was later reported that all the hijackers had entered the United States on business or tourist visas. But in the emergency situation after the attacks, schools waived normal privacy concerns, and 200 universities and colleges responded to requests for information about foreign students.
Federal officials were not limiting their requests to only international students. They also requested information on students with foreign names or with a foreign origin. (1)
The INS also developed a database called the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, to have records of international students around the country in a central database. (2) The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 already mandated the creation of a database that stored information about international students. About 820,000 foreign students enter the U.S. on visas each year. It would have been funded by a $95 fee collected from student visa holders. There was opposition to this database, but it quieted down in the aftermath of 9/11. This database would link schools, INS, Department of State, and Department of Education. It was first implemented as a pilot program in 21 schools with 40,000 records. Others opposed the program as being an unreasonable barrier to foreign students who legitimately seek to pursue higher education in the United States, and an unnecessary reporting burden on the colleges. The growth of racial profiling was felt too.
Others wanted more intrusive efforts. Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed a six month moratorium on student visas to develop the tracking system, and suggested collecting biometric data like fingerprints and photographs of all foreign students entering the United States. She proposed $32 million for the INS to build a database to track foreign students. Later with the passage of the Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was restructured, part of it become the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Students made up just 2 percent of all visas issued.
Other proposals were being debated in Congress. Many thought the US higher education system was too open, and other moratorium proposals were floated . Other argued that foreign students and exchange were an essential part of the research component of American higher education. They also contribute $11 billion in spending. (3)
The universities were one place that was affected by the changes after 9/11, and still linger today. In another area, the right wing used the universities as an area of battle.
- Corye Barbour of the United States Student Association was troubled by the free for all that authorities had with student information. “On top of that, the administration wants blanket access to student records with no time limit attached. Will it be ok to get information on all international students, all students with Muslim-sounding names? There is no discussion about where the line is drawn.” – Hardy, Terri. “FBI Going After College Student’s Files.” Sacramento Bee. September 27, 2001. now located at: https://web.archive.org/web/20011221075621/http://www.knoxstudio.com/shns/story.cfm?pk=SIEGE-COLLEGES-09-27-01&cat=AN
Dean, Katie. “INS Culls Foreign Student Info.” Wired News. October 8, 2001. now located at: https://web.archive.org/web/20011130031705/http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,47353,00.html
Clayton, Mark. “Open Doors.” Christian Science Monitor. December 18, 2001. http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1218/p11s1-lehl.html