Solidarity After 9/11
21 November 2002 By Stentor Danielson
A panel discussion on "Building Solidarity: The Changing Situation Since 9/11" addressed the impact of September 11 on international students at Clark yesterday in Tilton Hall.
The panelists and audience members agreed that, while Clark has been a supportive environment for international students, legislation such as the USA Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act present challenges to the civil liberties of international students as well as U.S. citizens.
Panelists were Director of the International Students and Scholars Office Amy Daly, International Student Association President Feras Al-Khalid, and graduate student Imrana Soofi, who serves on the Board of Directors for Worcester’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The panel was moderated by Hillel Director David Coyne.
"Everyone was extremely supportive" after September 11, Al-Khalid commented. He said he didn't know of any incidents of international students being harassed at Clark, though there had been problems at other universities. Senior Arianna Lomas Gomez, who hails from Spain, agreed, expressing her appreciation for the Clark community's response.
Other foreign nationals have not been so lucky. "My biggest worry was that things were going to get worse. After a year, I can say things have gotten worse," Soofi said.
Al-Khalid described his return from winter break, when one of his traveling companions was pulled aside for questioning at Logan Airport. "The person who was talking to him was extremely rude," he said. Al-Khalid got fingerprinted returning from a visit to his sister, who lives in Canada.
Daly said that citizens of approximately 26 countries (the official list is classified) need to get security clearance on top of the normal procedures for obtaining a visa. She said that four Clark students were unable to begin classes this fall because of this security clearance, which can take from four to six months.
Every semester, Clark will have to report on all 475 of its international students to a new tracking system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. In addition, nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria are subject to being put on Special Registration, which requires them to be fingerprinted and photographed, at the discretion of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers.
Students' library records could be searched by government officials under the new legislation, Soofi said. In response to this, many libraries have begun keeping minimal records, so that they do not have information to turn over to investigators.
These changes have come about because of legislation like the USA Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security Bill, which was passed this week by the Senate. Coyne called the Patriot Act "one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed."
This legislation can affect U.S. citizens as well as foreigners. For example, government agents can conduct secret searches of anyone now. "I'm not just being paranoid here," Soofi said.
The panelists urged students to take action on behalf of foreign nationals. "Dissent is one of the most patriotic things you can do," Soofi said. Coyne agreed, "Those of us who feel strongly about these issues need to screw up our courage and take leadership."
"A foreign student can't really be out there protesting," Soofi said, because foriegners are more vulnerable to government action.
Daly said that Clark, like many organizations and municipalities has stood up to the government’s enforcement of legislation like the Patriot Act. She said she refused to talk to the FBI, which wanted to interview international students, without an attorney present. "Some schools roll over and do it. Clark will not," she said.
The panel stressed the importance of solidarity. Coyne said he was motivated by the commandment in the Torah to "welcome the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Graduate student Susannah McCandless related her experience of helping incoming Iranian graduate student Mohammad Reza Ghassemzadeh Eskandari get a visa to come to Clark. "You might think you don't know anyone, but you could be part of the link that helps build this international community."
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