The Mountain Times

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Don’t disconnect us

In support of increased international student mobility

Now that we're in the throes of immigration reform whilst living with the threat posed by rogue refugees in the wake of the Boston bombing, we need to recognize the positive contributions to our society of not only the millions of immigrants who make up the fabric of our society, but also the thousands of international students who enrich our lives.

Three friends of the alleged bombers are facing federal charges of trying to hide evidence after the explosions, and one of those three was recently allowed to reenter the U.S. on a student visa even though he was no longer attending college. This has sparked calls for a clampdown on student visas despite the fact that the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth had acted correctly and informed the Department of Homeland Security he was no longer a student.

The federal government has already acted to tighten oversight to help ensure that foreign students seeking to enter the U.S. have valid student visas. The heightened scrutiny by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is effective immediately. Border agents will also have better and faster access to computerized databases that track the status of student visas, like SEVIS - the Student Exchange and Visitors Information System - which was mandated by the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. These actions are appropriate, and lawmakers must stand up against fearmongers calling for more restrictions on student visas.

Back in 2001, hasty reports soon established in the public mindset that student visas were terrorists' preferred method of entering the U.S., although only one of the 19 hijackers came to the U.S. on a student visa - the rest arrived on tourist or business visas. Just this year, lawmakers from both parties, including Janet Napolitano and Marco Rubio, and on both sides of the immigration debate have falsely claimed that "some" or "all" of the 9/11 hijackers were in the U.S. on student visas.

It's important for us to put the record straight, stress the positive contribution of students from outside our borders, and make our student visa system work efficiently. If we place more restrictions on students entering the country, they'll be rubbing their hands together with glee in other countries.

The undoubted star of last month's Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles was Britain's ex-prime minister, Tony Blair - no mean feat, considering the competition included the two richest men in the world - Carlos Slim and Bill Gates, as well as Al Gore, Magic Johnson, Rupert Murdoch, Antonio Villaraigosa, Eric Cantor, Geena Davis, Wayne Gretzky, and Jimmy Connors.

One of Blair's recurring themes during the conference was the value of international educational exchanges. Now, Blair, as we all remember, was George W. Bush's closest ally in the post 9/11 "War Against Terror," but, during his candid interview with Michael Milken, he revealed his opportunism, admitting that the UK had been "a major beneficiary" of the U.S. policy to clamp down on student visas despite pressure to follow the American 'example.' His thinking was that "because they [the U.S.] are going to keep out a lot of people that would enormously enrich American universities if they allowed them in, so let's take them. They [the Americans] are our allies and we love them, but if they're going to go down that path, let's be beneficiaries of that. I think the world today works by connectivity and the key thing is for people to have an open mind. When you get smart people coming in and studying at our universities, we're building up relationships; we're building up connections that are going to be hugely important to my country in the future."

The world today does work by connectivity, so let's make sure that America doesn't lose any more of the connections that are going to be so important to our future prosperity, health, and security.

Daniel Ward is editor of Language Magazine in Los Angeles, CA.