Imagine that you are an international student who is planning on studying in the United States. From what you know, the American people are free, the American government is a model democracy, something that maybe you would like to see in your home country, and the educational opportunities there are unparalleled. However, before you can start studying, you have to register with the federal government. You are fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed under oath. Some of the interview questions even delve into your political affiliations or your personal religious beliefs. You must report your address to the government and re-report that address if you ever decide to move. You have to take more than 12 credits, otherwise there is a chance that you might be arrested. And you must check in yearly with a local federal office, so they can make sure that all of the information they have on you is up to date. If you don’t comply in any way you might be detained, with the possibility of being deported.

Could this ever happen in America? The reality is that it is happening in America to international students and scholars throughout the country and here at Georgetown. International students from 20 primarily Muslim and Arab countries must go through the INS Special Registration, or the process described above; otherwise they will face penalties such as detentions or deportations. The process treats international students, many who are seeking greater educational opportunities and share core American values, like criminals because of their race or religious beliefs. The process has even lead to the arrest of hundreds of immigrants in Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 2002 who voluntarily went to their local INS office to comply with the new regulations. A mother who saw her 16-year-old son being taken away from her and detained, when asked how she felt about the new registration and her son’s arrest, stated, “I blame myself. I brought my son here and put him in jail. Why? Just because I followed the law?” (The Associated Press, Dec. 20, 2002)

The process has caused a plethora of criticism from civil rights groups, congressmen and religious leaders throughout the country. Senators Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) along with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) have written to Attorney General John Ashcroft to suspend further implementation of INS special registration. They have expressed grave doubt on whether special registration has struck the proper balance between securing our borders and respecting the civil liberties of foreign students, businesspeople and visitors who have come to our nation legally.

However, the civil rights abuses are not limited to the INS, but to other government agencies such as the FBI. The FBI has currently instigated a program to seek information on international students and scholars under the 2001 Patriot Law. This claim however, is even disputed by the Department of Education, which questions the legality of such a claim. Even more disturbingly, The Washington Post (Jan. 25, 2003) reports that the FBI is now beginning to tap campus police to spy on university students throughout the country. The policy is reminiscent of the 60s when the FBI often harassed student activists, dissidents and political organizations for engaging in first amendment activities.

Therefore, Campaign Civil Rights, a coalition of student organizations including Amnesty International, Muslim Student Association, Peace Action, GU Solidarity and the Young Arab Leadership Association, requests that the administration:

1) not allow the FBI to unconditionally and randomly search through international students’ and scholars’ files. Allowing the FBI unrestricted access to students’ files without a subpoena or a legitimate threat to national security, may lead to greater mistreatment to our international guests.

2) not allow the FBI to use campus police to spy on university students, professors and administrators. The FBI has a history of abuse rooting from the 1960’s where the FBI, under COINTELPRO, infiltrated leftist antiwar and civil rights groups with informants, tapped into radio frequencies to disrupt protest plans, stole membership rolls and compiled dossiers on student political leaders. (The Washington Post, Jan. 25, 2003)

3) Speak out publicly against INS Special Registration voicing concerns about its inconvenience, the message it sends to visiting scholars and students, and its potential to translate into greater civil rights abuses. The university should not stand silently when many members of the international student population are treated as if they have committed a crime or are under probation simply because of their race or religion.

Younus Mirza is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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