Three senators, two Democrats and one Republican, were solidly united Tuesday morning in their frustration with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) handling of fraud and potential terror threats in the nation's foreign student program.
"Process, process, process, but no action", summarized Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at a session of the Senate immigration subcommittee as it reviewed what it found to be a very good report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on DHS's handling of the licensing of educational institutions to accept foreign students. For more on that report see this blog.
The hearing was conducted by the subcommittee chair Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). He and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), often disagreeing in other situations, were in total agreement today that the system by which DHS gives educational institutions the all-important right to issue the visa-creating Form I-20 to admitted alien students was seriously flawed.
The witnesses were Rebecca Gambler of GAO, the lead author of the report, who was treated gently by all three, and the hapless John Woods, Assistant ICE Director for National Security Investigations, who was placed in the unenviable position of defending the DHS record on these issues.
It was Woods' repeated descriptions of the internal actions being taken by ICE to improve matters in this area that triggered Sen. Feinstein's (totally appropriate) blast.
The senators were upset at ICE's slow re-certification of educational institutions, something that is supposed to take place every two years for every institution. But the GAO report said that only 19 percent of the 10,000 institutions had been re-certified in the past 10 years. Similarly, they were upset that ICE was not using a risk assessment system to devote most of its energies to high-risk targets, rather than low-risk ones.
"You spend as much time on Stanford as you do on Tri-Valley University", Sen. Schumer said in reference to a sham school closed by ICE last year.
The senators were even more worried about the fact that 38 percent of the flight training schools approved by ICE had not been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The trio also wondered why ICE had not demanded background checks on all of the officials at the educational institutions who were the contact points between the schools and ICE.
More fundamentally, the senators wondered why any unaccredited educational institutions were allowed, as they are now, to accept foreign students. The GAO report said that fully one-eighth of the schools had no accreditation of any kind.
The senators, according to Schumer, were all supporting a bill about to be introduced to correct many of the problems noted by GAO. They also agreed that the problem had to be addressed at the DHS secretary's level.
The stolid Mr. Woods must have been quite relieved when the relatively brief — just an hour — hearing ended.