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Student Visa Tracking To Start Immediately
by Jose Latour

A shocking revelation for anyone who knows nothing about U.S. immigration: The U.S. has announced that, based on growing evidence of fraud in student visas and considerable disarray in the nations immigration service, the Federal government will be hastening the startup of a complex computer-based system designed to track foreign students attending thousands of educational institutions throughout the United States. The system, called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, SEVIS, requires colleges, universities, technical schools, and other institutions to report to the INS the addresses of all foreign students, their majors, and whether they depart the school or are expelled from the institution.

As most of our readers know, there are more than one million foreign students attending educational institutions in the United States, and the events of last September 11th have given the entire concept of "foreign students" a bad name to many average Americans looking for a quick solution to the complex problem of terrorism. To a nation loath to track its own citizens, the idea of tracking foreigners in its own soil is somewhat less disturbing, and it is easy to understand why.

In reality, the ethnicities associated with terrorism tend to be few and far between, but identifying certain nationalities presents a number of problems both to the innocent members of the particular identifiable ethnic group as well as to Americans in general who hate the concept of pointing a finger at any particular nationality or group. Accordingly, the new visa student tracking system aims a broad scope of analysis, providing a Democratic scope of enforcement - all foreign students - but at the same time creating a cumbersome task for the academic institutions involved, which are not prepared or designed for this type of legal enforcement.

Attorney General John Ashcroft - with whom I'm currently having an ongoing tiff (I'm sure he's losing tons of sleep over it) - was quoted at a recent news conference as saying that the new system will give the American people "assurance that students visiting our country are who they purport to be."

As usual, I take a little bit of exception with Mr. Ashcroft's commentary. In reality, we'll know where the particular student is, that is, whether or not he or she is attending the school he or she is supposed to be attending. As far as who that person is...well, that raises all together different questions.

The truth is that despite the best efforts to identify and track students once in the United States, the vast majority of individuals on this small, wet, blue marble does not, in fact, have records with the FBI Interpol or any other police organization in this country or abroad. Most individuals with terrorist agendas are basically invisible, young, angry young men and women from a variety of ethnicities. The young militants blowing up churches in Colombia, setting off bombs in the rural Philippines, and, yes, committing terrorists acts in the Middle East, Europe, and other places, are mostly anonymous types whose names are not prominently displayed on al-Qaida network rosters nor on other notorious, nefarious membership lists. They're simply foreign versions of "nice kids next door" - just like the kid who recently installed the pipe bombs all over America and just like the nice Saudi boys who brought you September who you wouldn't believe could pull something like this off.

Do I believe that this new student visa tracking system is a good idea? Absolutely. I can't tell you how often I've run into people who enter the U.S. on an F-1 Visa and then simply disappear into the sad world of illegal alien status. However, I believe that the true beneficiaries of this system will be those young men and women entering the United States who wind up having their best laid academic plans go awry, only to falter and drop out of school. Under the new system, there will be accountability, and accountability is always good. Hopefully, the new tracking system means that when kids drop out, they'll go home, regroup, and do better with their lives. It means that they won't disappear into a network of "former F-1s" who show up on our chat-room every now and then asking us for advice after remaining illegally in the United States for five or six years.

As far as curbing terrorism, I don't think that this law is going to do a whole lot for us.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.