University Officials Concerned About New INS Tracking Program for International Students

Beginning January 2003 the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will be mandatory for all U.S. schools, colleges and universities accepting international students. The system will be in operation as early as next month.

The concept and planning for SEVIS began in 1995, after INS learned that one of the individuals involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was in the U.S. on an expired student visa. But the push for an active system became a priority of INS after the September 11 terrorist attack. At least one of the September 11 participants entered the U.S. on a student visa.

SEVIS will not gather new information, but instead will enable a better sharing of information among federal groups. The system will no longer allow international students to ‘disappear’ after entering the U.S. under a student visa. School officials will be required to report to INS student arrivals, withdrawals and other changes in enrollment.

While SEVIS will enable better information sharing, many university officials are concerned that the cost will be immense. Schools with fewer than 75 international students will be able to forward information through the Internet, but larger schools will be required to purchase batching software that can cost thousands of dollars. The cost of implementing SEVIS will be significant and no federal assistance will be provided.

Officials are also concerned about data entry errors leading to students being turned away at borders. A mistake in data entry can lead to SEVIS not recognizing a valid international student.
Further, there is concern that SEVIS will give the impression that international students are not wanted in the U.S. International programs for decades have offered new perspectives to students from across the world, and have been influential in promoting both diversity within the U.S. and tolerance worldwide.

Ashcroft Announces Plan to Track Foreign Visitors Posing “National Security Concerns”

The Department of Justice recently announced a proposal that would require fingerprinting, photographing and registering of nationals of certain countries. Initial plans for this registration system, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, will focus on aliens from countries considered to potentially pose national security risks such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft states that the purpose of the system is to “expand substantially America’s scrutiny of those visitors who may pose a national security concern and enter our country.” Citing the terrorist attacks of September 11 as the new system’s precursor, Ashcroft maintains that “on September 11, the American definition of national security changed and changed forever.”

However, some immigrant organizations and members of Congress disagree with Ashcroft’s statements, claiming the system was both unfair and racist. According to critics, the plan would unfairly profile hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern students, visitors and workers.

Under the proposed system, all visitors over the age of 14 who appear to be security risks will be required to be fingerprinted and photographed prior to entering the U.S. Fingerprints will then be matched against a growing database of suspected or known terrorists at the port of entry. Affected individuals remaining in the U.S. for a period over 30 days will be required to register with the INS and show proof of employment/school enrollment, or information on their living arrangements. They will also be required to re-register each year, or face the possibility of fines, jail or deportation. Targeted aliens must also inform the INS each time they leave the U.S. at the exit port.

The announcement of this new initiative is, according to Ashcroft, the first phase of the government’s effort to establish a system that tracks virtually all of the of the 35 million foreign visitors who come to the United States annually. Ashcroft stated that the proposed registration system “is the crucial first phase in that endeavor and will track approximately 100,000 visitors in the first year.” Congress has mandated that the INS create a comprehensive tracking system by 2005.

Older, Non-Biometric Mexican Border Crossing Cards (BCCs) Valid Until October 1, 2002

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) recently announced that non-biometric Mexican Border Crossing Cards (BCCs) will be valid until October 1, 2002. These cards had been replaced with the newer, biometric versions pursuant to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 that mandated that the biometric BCC cards replace the older, non-biometric cards as of October 1, 2001.

The recently enacted Enhanced Border Security Act, however, provides that non-biometric BCC card holders will now have until October 1, 2002 to replace them with the biometric, machine-readable versions.

Individuals wishing to enter the United States under the new law must possess one of the following:

The old, non-biometric BCC (Form I-186 or I-586);
The new, biometric BCC (Form DSP-150);
A combination of the B1 or B2 visa and a BCC document issued by the Department of State prior to 1998. The visa must be valid and a valid passport must also be shown; or
Other visas and passports that are up-to-date and valid.

The biometric BCC contains both a photo and machine-readable biometric information, and will, as of October 1, 2002, be the only recognized form of the BCC card.

The Department of State is accepting applications for the biometric BCC, and appointments can be arranged via a toll-free number at one of the participating U.S. Consulates in Mexico.

These participating locations include: Mexico City, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Merida, Matamoros, Monterrey, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana, and Mexicali.