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Testimony of Julia Beatty

U.S. Student Association President

Before the House Education & the Workforce Committee


Good morning. My name is Julia Beatty. I am president of the United States Student Association. USSA is the nationís oldest and largest national student organization. Since 1947, we have worked to expand access to higher education for all students, because we believe that education is a right. Students all over the country are talking about issues of education, security, and immigration in classrooms and dorm rooms. We are pleased that you have asked for our input. All students, both citizens and non-citizens, will be affected by the policies implemented in the coming weeks and months. So on behalf of all the students concerned about international education, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

In recent weeks our national efforts to promote safety and security have led to an interest among many lawmakers in revising the regulations surrounding visas. Student visas have been a particular focus since it seems that two of the people responsible for the tragedy on September 11 may have been student visa-holders.

It saddens me that international students have been identified in such a negative way with the events of September 11. In our own experience, we know international students to be integral parts of our vibrant campus communities. International students make up roughly 25% of all Doctoral degrees granted in the U.S., making them a major part of the teaching and research workforce in our universities. They add to the intellectual and ideological richness of our campus culture. International students also contribute economic resources to our colleges and universities, between $9 and $13 billion annually. From conducting research to teaching classes, to simply sharing their own personal experiences, international students contribute immeasurably to our educations both inside and outside the classroom.

As students facing a rapidly changing economy and uncertain job market, we understand the importance of experience with other cultures in our careers. Not only do we value the presence of international students on our campuses, but we seek opportunities ourselves to learn in other countries and other cultures. We fear that any limits placed on international students seeking to enter this country on the basis of their country of origin will result in similar policies being adopted by other nations, preventing many American students from being able to study abroad in the country of their choice. The impact of such limitations would be felt for years to come. International study is the means by which we develop international leaders. At this critical juncture in U.S. and world history, it is the countries whose students some have proposed that we ban from study in the U.S. that we most need to reach out to and most need to understand. Congress should encourage, rather than inhibit, scholarly exchange with these countries. Any less would, we believe be a blow to our long-term security as a nation.

Already the process for gaining admissions to U.S. colleges, obtaining a visa, and actually entering the U.S. for study is complicated and burdensome. International students leave their homes and families, including spouses and children to seek a better education in the U.S., since visa regulations do not allow even dependants of students to accompany them. The visa screening requirements disadvantage those from nations in turmoil, often the students most in need of access to educational resources outside their home countries. For students of limited English proficiency, there are additional barriers in understanding the process and requirements in obtaining a visa. Further, the cost of higher education in the U.S., burdensome even for most families here, is extremely high when compared to the cost of living and average earnings in many other countries.

International students and many domestic students have already suffered as a result of the events of September 11 and their aftermath. The loss of human life alone has been devastating, but there have been less obvious and less publicized injuries as well. On college campuses all over the country there have been increased reports of violence and harassment toward students who are or are perceived to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, and Muslim students.

As early as September 20, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported at least four assaults, whose victims included students in California, Arizona, North Carolina, and New Mexico. We have had unconfirmed reports of similar incidents in Oregon, Wisconsin, and Florida. In all these cases, students were physically assaulted, some quite brutally, and were targeted because of their dress, appearance, or last name. One student, a citizen of Lebanon, was called a terrorist and told to "go home!" while he was beaten. Students are unable to focus on their studies in these conditions and some, both domestic and international students, have returned home. While the American students who went home face certain obstacles in returning to school, as does any returning student, the barriers are far greater for international students, some of whom will have to start from scratch in seeking admission to the U.S. and U.S. universities. Students and administrators work hard to make campuses safe places to live and learn, but in the wake of September 11, we need your help. We need our government not to cast an unmerited web of suspicion over international students but to find ways to promote safety without crippling the things we hold dear, our privacy and our freedom. We also hope that you and your colleagues will not pursue policies that would make some on our campuses safer at the expense on othersí safety.

On September 19, Secretary of Education Rod Paige called on university administrators to protect students who were likely targets of such backlash. He asked that they not "inadvertently foster the targeting of Arab-American students for harassment or blame." Since September 11, students have been asking Congress and the administration to do the same. Maintaining higher standards for students from nations on "watch lists" to obtain visas and employing racial profiling by culling students records for names that appear to indicate Arab descent both imply that a personís name, country of origin, or appearance is enough to warrant questioning or detention. This gives a green light to all those who would harass or assault classmates and neighbors on the same basis.

Patterns of racial profiling, particularly in immigration law enforcement, give us pause as we contemplate a system that would centralize information on international students. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Report "Justice on Trial: Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System" 73.5% of INS deportees are of Mexican origin though they make up less than half of all undocumented persons in the U.S.. A project in Katy, Texas involving the INS and Katy police stopped cars driven by individuals of "Hispanic appearance," targeted Latinos on the street and searched their homes. Assigning more responsibility to an already overburdened and under-funded agency, which routinely relies on racial profiling to do their job seems risky, at best. We, too, want our campuses and homes to be safer but for whom, and at what cost?

USSAís mission is increasing access to higher education. We believe that many of the proposals made in recent weeks regarding international students would do just the opposite. In years past, we, along with several other members of the higher education community opposed the implementation of CIPRIS, now SEVIS. While we recognize the growing consensus, post September 11, among many educators and lawmakers to move forward with SEVIS, we hope they will undertake those efforts with caution and with respect for studentsí privacy and for our human and civil rights as embodied in the Constitution. We also hope that any eventual implementation of SEVIS can go forward without additional financial burden on international students. Again, the cost of education in the U.S. is high. This fee only adds to the burden and represents a sizable sum of money for residents of many countries. In recent years, the administrative questions surrounding a potential student fee have proven difficult to resolve. Besides the administrative obstacles the fee has posed, it is a heavy-handed approach to funding the program, with no accounting for length of individual educational programs, or access to the technology that compliance might require. Some students enter the U.S. for lengthy periods of doctoral study, while others are here for much briefer intensive English programs or undergraduate exchange, but under this system, all students would pay the same fee.

Many have debated the merits of changing the process by which we award visas. Notable among recent suggestions is that we employ a heightened scrutiny on visa applicants from countries on certain "watch lists." Others have gone as far as to suggest eliminating student visas altogether for students from certain countries. While this may be intuitively comforting, allowing us to place all the proverbial "bad guys" "over there," that sense of comfort is false. Threats to national security come from many places, including our own home. Let us not forget that before September 11, the most notorious terrorist in U.S. history was a white, American citizen. Furthermore, we are afraid that in this time of tense and difficult international relations, students or their educations could become pawns in foreign policy by punishing students for their governmentsí behavior. Many who seek entrance to the U.S. do so to flee their own governments, and assuming that those entering on visas or as immigrants are linked to their home governments would be erroneous. We believe this should be avoided wherever possible.

While international students do not have a voice in these processes that will deeply affect their lives, their fellow students do, and we are concerned. We are concerned about restrictions on visas for students seeking education at Americaís colleges and universities. We are concerned about efforts to track international students as they try to improve their lives through education. And we are concerned about additional barriers to education for international students that may be imposed in the name of safety. We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to continuing to work with you to shape federal policy as it relates to higher education in general and international education in particular.