de literatura norte americana na Mukogawa Women’s University em
Nishinomiya, Japão, e autor de vários livros, incluindo estudos
críticos do sistema universitário nos Estados Unidos.
VERSÃO EM PORTUGUÊS:
O aluno estrangeiro como
Foreign Student as Terrorist
“Admitting large numbers of students,
scholars, businesspeople, and tourists fuels our economy, cultural
vitality, and political reach.”
The 9/11 Commission Report
The other day my
Brazilian stepson was refused a student visa to study in the United
States. Why? Section 212-B on the consular checklist: suspicion of
intention to emigrate. Daniel’s stated academic purposes were
dismissed out of hand, as well as his familial ties (five sisters, a
father, a brother, and numerous relatives) to his own country. The
I-20 form issued by an American university? Irrelevant. The American
citizenship of his mother? At once beside the point and further
grounds for suspicion.
of all, Daniel just turned twenty-four. In the actual halls of
American embassies and consulates these days, he may as well have
chanted from the Koran while waiting for his consular interview.
These interviews are standard procedure now. 9/11 has been
responsible for great changes in the process by which students from
abroad can receive visas. These changes, in turn, are the sole
reason usually given for the fact that, although some 580,000
foreign students study at American universities, applications are
down 28% the past year and actual enrollment 6%.
decline justified? Who can say if there are in fact more foreign
terrorists afoot? To consider merely the point of entry: the
procedure by which foreign students are denied or awarded visas
abides as a highly elusive one, because all cases finally must be
judged individually. No matter, in a very distinct sense, that the
rules are remorselessly clear: an individual must demonstrate an
acceptable level of family or sponsor income, a compelling or
enduring relation to his or her own country, and so on.
the rules is that their application is particular to each case, and
in particular cases there are no rules, except the judgment of the
individual consular officer. This situation never made logical--as
opposed to procedural--sense. Today, in a heightened political
atmosphere, it makes for grotesque results. American consular
decisions about who is and is not deemed acceptable to study in the
United States should by now be a national scandal, if they could be
they cannot be. In recent years, the results of the scandal have
only become known once--and once was enough. Were the specific
consular officials (almost all in Saudi Arabia) who were responsible
for approving student visas for the 9/11 terrorists ever subject to
some discipline? Nothing I have ever heard or read indicates that
they were. The 9/11 Commission Report is silent on the matter.
Routine diplomatic actions are presumably monitored. But only
internally, by other diplomats, and there’s the end of it.
the assessment of student visa applications worldwide had
undoubtedly grown too lax; according to the Report, a security group
led by Richard Clark proposed a tighter review of student visa
procedures six months before 9/11. Now, however, the procedures have
grown too rigid. Anyone who has anything to do with foreign students
at American colleges knows stories of flagrant senselessness, not to
say injustice, similar to my stepson’s.
I learned of his fate, I called the office of my congressman to
request a letter of inquiry to the Sao Paulo Consulate. The staff
person who answered was working on another such letter on behalf of
another anguished family. No matter his I-20 in order and all the
rest, including an airline ticket; once the son admitted having no
particular reason to return to England, the consulate at the London
Embassy sent him packing.
thought of the other two foreign students I know best at present.
One is from South America. She’s been studying here for two years.
Her father is an executive with a multinational. Her family hasn’t
lived in their native country for many years. How had she gotten a
visa? The other student is from the Middle East. Again, he’s been
here for two years. His father is a minister. The family doesn’t
want him to return because he might get swept up in regional
violence. Although it might be easier to understand how he got a
student visa, why had the possibility that he either might not be
able to or might not want to return been a more decisive factor in
the decision to give him one?
much resonance does a single life possess? Virtually none, if there
is no way to marshal or represent it in some collective fashion--and
insofar as the consular processing of foreign students by the United
States is concerned, there is no way. The Americans can’t listen to
what one of these students might protest, when rejected. Indeed, the
Americans don’t even care. Their decisions in each case are
immediate and irrevocable. The consular interview is not a dialogue.
Officials don’t have to justify themselves to those whom they judge.
If one could compare the cases of the students from all over the
world who have been awarded visas during the past year with those of
the students who have been denied them, would it finally become
impossible to tell the difference between the two groups? Idle
speculation of course. The system lacks either administrative or
conceptual space for such a survey. Meanwhile, the same system has
acquired a quite specific, remorseless political character.
very real sense, the process by which prospective students from
abroad are evaluated in American consulates and embassies today
becomes a continuation of the war in Iraq by other means. It doesn’t
matter what anybody thinks of us. What matters is our own safety as
Granted, we still presume to act decently, not to say,
democratically, toward the native population, who can be expected,
in turn, to admire our ideals. Trouble is, this population is
dangerous. It contains too many “elements” whose motives we have
every reason to suspect. So best to encounter everybody fully
equipped and fully armored.
make mistakes, well, it can’t be helped. There’s a war on. We can
only hope that more individuals benefit from contact with our ideals
than suffer from experience with our determination to inflict them.
Meanwhile, at the present time what reasonable expectation can any
one foreign student have who might want to study in this county? The
thousands of these students in the United States can speak for
themselves on this point. My concern is with the thousands who will
never be able to study here, and who cannot speak.
haven’t asked Daniel what he would say. He’s still too shocked at
his rejection. He knows his room was ready in our house and his
tuition taken care of at his prospective university. If he knew how
eager his mother was to cook a Christmas turkey for him that she
couldn’t resist buying weeks ago, he would weep for the waste. It’s
not his alone. It’s the waste of hundreds and even thousands of
prospective students all over the world. Too many are now virtually
mandated to be summarily rejected by whim or fiat. From an
impossible global perspective, they accumulate like so many victims.
context, there is one astounding statistic embedded in the 9/11
Commission Report. One would think from current consular mandates
that most of those whom the Commission identifies as the thirteen
“muscle hijackers” (who actually boarded the planes) entered the
United States on the basis of foreign student visas. In fact, only
two did! It is in the name of these two that current student visa
policies are being driven--and there is something more. “All of the
hijackers whose visa applications we reviewed” the Report concludes,
“could have been denied because their applications were not filled
out completely.” In effect, American consular offices across the
earth have now substituted denial for acceptance, with no more
justice to the applicants, and even less interest in the
promise of America! Some foreign students may still believe in it,
insofar as reflected in American higher education. But as post-9/11,
War-on-Terrorism students from Brazil to China discover that this
ideal has first to be tested by the cynicism of American diplomacy,
the promise is going to seem hollow. It may already have become so.
Since Americans can’t ask rejected foreign students (now assessed
the unrefundable cost of a visa before they learn if they receive
it!) we can ask the foreign students among us. How politicized has
their own study come to be during the interview? How did they
survive their first consular contact? More to the present point,
how much do they feel they and their fellows were already being
converted not so much into potential immigrants as into terrorists?