Staff Editorial: Verifying visas

One of the terrorists who took part in the Sept. 11 attacks entered the United States on a student visa. But he never showed up for class. President George W. Bush announced Tuesday that his administration would begin a crackdown on visitors to the United States – whatever their purpose for being here – who violate visa regulations and immigration laws. This announcement is a welcome commitment for the federal government to begin doing what it should have all along by enforcing laws already in place.

Neither Bush nor other administration officials have issued any descriptions of the president’s plans or filled in the details. So far, all he has announced is his intent to begin better coordination of enforcement activities. Positive steps should be taken in the coming weeks to achieve this goal, and the American people should remain informed along with potential visitors.

The vast majority of people from overseas studying in the United States are legitimate, degree-seeking students and are not terrorists. But with little ability to ensure those international students are attending classes and behaving as students, misusing the current student visa system is a perfect way for terrorists to enter and then hide in the United States.

The government already insists colleges and universities certify international students are enrolled for classes but does not require proof they actually show up. Perhaps instituting a system where colleges and universities periodically verify an international student’s regular class attendance would help. Whatever the measures the government introduces, they should not be so burdensome as to discourage overseas students from coming to the United States or interfere with their legitimate academic pursuits.

Still, some burden is necessary. In this new climate of heightened security, international students must realize they are under greater scrutiny than before simply because terrorists have in the past and may continue to use international student status as a cover for their illegal activities. International students, like all visitors to the United States, are guests in this country and must obey whatever rules the federal government sets up. But the government must strike a delicate balance between preserving the basic rights of international students and ensuring they are here to learn.

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