With all of its symbols of freedom and democracy, America has become a melting pot of ethnic, racial and religious diversity. The land of the free has opened its door to those huddled masses pursuing the American dream, American freedom and American opportunity.
That was before Sept. 11, 2001.
Now there are too many foreigners in our country and too many crossing our borders. As Americans grow increasingly suspicious of immigrants, foreign students could be the first to feel the brunt of the door slam.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, lawmakers have proposed reducing the number of student visas issued, or even banning them temporarily, according to published news reports.
It doesn’t help that the hijacker who piloted the plane into the Pentagon entered the United States on a student visa. Such a revelation reminds us that one of the terrorists in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was in the country on an expired student visa.
After the 1993 bombing, Congress called for government monitoring of foreign students in the United States. The law, expected to be implemented in 2003, requires colleges and universities to maintain a database that tracks the movements of foreign students. If a foreign student switches majors or misses class, the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) wants to know about it. And in light of our current war on terrorism, government officials wanted to know yesterday.
Aside from the possible economic and operational disruption to colleges and universities, these measures have an obvious flaw. They ignore the immigrants who enter the United States using tourist visas, employment visas or no visas at all. As a result, reducing student visas and monitoring foreign students will do little, if anything, to prevent terrorism. It may seem viable to monitor the 500,000 foreign students who entered the country last year, but it is impossible to watch the 30 million visitors who came along with them. However, Sept. 11 could be just the excuse America needs to further narrow the path to the United States.
According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, Americans would like to see less immigration, with 53 percent thinking that immigration levels should be decreased. But Americans have felt this way long before Sept. 11.
Historically, immigrants have been blamed for everything from stealing American jobs to draining the U.S. economy. Such xenophobic attitudes have led to laws that have steadily curbed the flow of immigration to the United States.
But once again, U.S. policy is misguided. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, compared to the native-born population, immigrants are more likely to be employed, save more of their earnings, and are more likely to start new businesses. Also, evidence shows that immigrants are very interested in being part of American society. In fact, some immigrants are concerned that their youngsters are assimilating too quickly.
America’s heightened fear of foreigners has more to do with racism than terrorism.
Changes to our immigration policies may seem prudent, but our fears have lasting consequences. And when U.S. policy is based on nationalistic paranoia, American freedom remains temporary not only for foreigners, but for all of us.