Student visas now caught in crossfire

No one can argue that the the Boston Marathon bombings jolted America. A great loss was felt from every corner of the country that day.

April 15, 2013 will now unfortunately be documented forever in American history books as the day that tragedy hit and senseless bombings injured 260 civilians and killed three.

Following the bombing, alleged terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed after being  gunned down by Boston Police in a dramatic gun battle that caused the entire metropolitan area to come to a screeching halt, leaving Americans demanding answers.

Tsarnev’s brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was arrested soon after and faces charges of using a weapon of mass destruction. Three of Dzhokhar’s friends, including two foreign exchange students from Kazakhstan, are also facing federal charges under suspicion of trying to hide evidence for Tsarnaev. Officials said the trio try to hide a backpack of fireworks after the bombings.

One of Dzhokhar’s alledgedly involved friends, Azamat Tazhayakov, is causing the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on student visa issuing. Tazhayakov was allowed to re-enter the country with a student visa, where he returned to Dartmouth University, although he was not enrolled.

According to to officials, the lapse occurred and wrongful reentry was granted to Tazhayakov because Customs and Border Control did not have the most updated information on his student visa status from Dartmouth. Because of Tazhayakov’s alleged involvement with the Tsarnaev brothers, the Department of Homeland Security stated that all current and future foreign exchange students should be put under the microscope before entering the country to further their education.

This isn’t the right way to go. Though security should be tightened after any terrorist attack, these restrictions seem like a somewhat harsh reaction to an isolated event.

According to the the Los Angeles Times, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has implemented an increased security system plan that is effective immediately.

Officials would not disclose what these added operational measures will be, but they did state that border control officials will be granted better access to technology that will aid in tracking student visas and statuses. Shouldn’t the department of homeland security already have access to the most top-notch security systems?

The overlooked and truly nerve-racking aspect of this situation is that the Department of Homeland Security is essentially admitting that they do not have the most up to date information. That’s what should make people feel nervous, not an overseas 20-something-year-old sleeping in an American dorm room. The crackdown should really fall on the inspectors who failed to properly follow up. Yahoo! News reported that the information received two days after Tazhayakov was granted re-entry was not up to date.

According to USA Today, the U.S. hosted 764,495 foreign exchange students in 2012. Out of all those these, only three students have been linked to—not even directly involved with—a terrorist situation. People are failing to remember that the bombing was done by at least one U.S. citizen, not by foreign terrorists.

So why is the emphasis being directed at the Student and Exchange Visitor Program? It’s apparent that the attention is being wrongly directed.

These harsher restrictions will make the U.S. seem like an uninviting place for foreign exchange students to come to and learn, since custom checks would give even airport officers access to students’ information.

In addition to getting all travel papers verified, students will now have their information checked through a database known as the Students Exchange Visitor Information System.

It seems as though the crackdown will keep students filling out paperwork at the airport during their entire stay in our country.

Students who dream of studying abroad in the U.S. may now be intimated by the potential interrogations they will face from airport officers. With all the excess screening processes, it seems that we would be treating them more like criminals than students. How would Americans react if U.S. students were put through the ringer when studying abroad in other countries like this?

Blame is being placed on foreign students, making it seem like there is a hidden political agenda. Several Republican Senators have reached out to Capitol Hill demanding that student visas be put on hold and that revisions be made immediately to the system.

Although cleaning up and updating our Homeland Security student visa programs technology is important, it’s imperative that the faults of one student who hid a backpack doesn’t impact the potential future of the U.S. hosting other foreign exchange students. It enriches the lives of students worldwide and the culture of our country.

Don’t let a hasty reaction ruin an important student program that expands our cultural opportunities to learn.

About Casey Elofson