INS restructure increases deportation threat

Staff members and international students are encountering problems regarding the new set of rules and regulations United States Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) put into effect Jan. 1, 2003.

Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) was developed in an effort to more closely monitor the status of international students at colleges and universities in the United States. However, the new Internet-based system threatens students with deportation if they are found “out of status” with too few credit hours.

Christina Luther, assistant director of International Education Services (IES), explained that the system has already raised “hundreds” of concerns among staff and students.

“One of our primary concerns is that it doesn’t allow for the human element,” she said. “Students are being confined to drop-down menus on a computer screen, and within the new system we can’t report why students aren’t completing their status requirements. With the paper system, we could fluff around problems if students were having difficulty in one of their classes.”

Luther is also concerned about the fact that the IES staff has received no SEVIS training, nor have they been given any sort of manual. She admitted there have already been a number of errors due to lack of instruction.

“I’d say that everything we’ve done so far, we’ve done wrong,” she said.

Since the system leaves no room for human error, mistakes made by staff can have serious consequences, she explained.

“It’s particularly frightening,” she said. “If I click on the wrong item of a drop-down menu, I don’t get in trouble, but an international student faces deportation.”

The IES staff has been warned of the problems that can result if an error is made within the system. A statement issued by Gil Latz, interim vice provost for International Affairs, explained to staff, “(The) INS will not tolerate mistakes, no matter who is at fault.”

Advisers are not the only staff members facing the possibility of accidentally causing the deportation of an international student. If a professor drops a student out of a class, placing them below their required number of credits, that student can be labeled as “out of status.”

In addition to the risks associated with SEVIS, staff at IES is facing problems with logging on to the system. One of the many complications that has arisen is due to the fact that INS has been replaced with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

Whereas advisers had been able to enter the new system through the INS Web site, as of last Friday, INS ceased to exist, causing all of the URLs to change over the weekend.

“People wanted to know why they couldn’t log on and where to go,” Luther said. “Or they’d log in and get bumped off, but when they try to log back into the system, it said that they already were, and they’d have to wait until the system timed them out before they could finish. It’s really slowing down the speed with which we can authorize something for a student.”

Jill Townley, international student adviser for the Intensive English Language Program, explained that in situations in which log-ins complications arise, advisers are unable to accomplish what they need to.

“If the system is down, we can’t do our job,” she said. “We can’t get work visas for students … and everything seems to be taking longer.”

With the termination of INS, the new department, BCIS, has advisers more than concerned, Townley admitted. Located under the enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security, advisers worry about how international students are going to be treated by U.S. officials.

“It makes me a little more uncomfortable,” Townley said. “Enforcement has a different way of looking at immigration issues. With them it’s more ‘guilty until proven innocent.'”

Townley explained that such a change may also affect relationships between advisers and students.

“We consider ourselves advocates for international students,” she said. “But if we’re seen as enforcers, that could change our interactions.”

The true effects of the new regulations won’t be seen until next year with the arrival of new students, Townley said. International students currently enrolled at PSU, however, have had mixed reactions.

Mary Ann Requiron, an international student from the Philippines, feels that the U.S. government is simply taking necessary precautions.

“I’m just thankful enough that the INS will still allow international students to enter the U.S. after the tragic 9-11,” she said. “I think they are just applying all the precautionary measures in order to avoid future recurrence of that tragic event.”

Not all international students share Requiron’s view. One student (who preferred to remain anonymous) referred to himself as “someone from the ‘Axis of Evil'” and declared the new regulations “inhuman.”

“Just because one hijacker (on 9-11) was using a student visa. … If they’re going to change the rules because of one person, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “When one white man raped two girls, did they start monitoring every white man? No.”

He is also concerned about the effects the new regulations will have on international students trying to gain access to study in the United States.

“These rules and regulations are going to prevent young people all over the world from enriching American culture,” he said, explaining such actions by the U.S. government will only create more problems.

“I’d like to tell them that it wasn’t a B-52 that blew up the World Trade Center, it was hatred in men,” he said. “We don’t want to create more hatred.”