On August 20, the Center published my Backgrounder on the risks to our country associated with a burgeoning foreign student and exchange scholar population.
Among the points I made was that American universities have become entirely too reliant on the revenue generated by such students, who bring in the highest fees for tuition and living arrangements — often offset by their governments, China being the notable example. Another point I made is that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a small office within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE-SEVP) has become the handmaiden of academia rather than a compliance watchdog.
On August 30, USA Today published a story that exemplifies that point all too clearly. Nine Chinese students were denied admission by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to return to their studies at Arizona State University, and it is clear that ASU mounted a press offensive to try to bring pressure on CBP or other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies to try to get the situation reversed.
I found this snippet from the USA Today article interesting:
The university said in a statement Friday that the detentions weren't based on academic dishonesty issues, despite a media report to the contrary. Customs officials haven't told ASU it was related to academic dishonesty, the university said.
"In fact CBP has given ASU no information on what has transpired," the university said.
If there were an academic dishonesty issue, that's the purview of ASU, not customs officials, ASU said.
Wrong. Given that the purpose of the students is to study, if they are cheating the system, it clearly reflects a violation of their student status. To emphasize this point, DHS has even published a regulation at 8 CFR 214.1(f), which says:
(f) False information. A condition of a nonimmigrant's admission and continued stay in the United States is the full and truthful disclosure of all information requested by DHS. A nonimmigrant's willful failure to provide full and truthful information requested by DHS (regardless of whether or not the information requested was material) constitutes a failure to maintain nonimmigrant status under section 237(a)(1)(C)(i) of the Act.
Of course, among the things that DHS maintains an interest in is the student's representation of his or her course of studies at whatever institution he or she attends. If a student represents that he or she is attending school full time and doing well — when in fact he or she is skipping exams to let impostors take them for a fee, or is paying someone to provide various reports or other papers in their name — then clearly that student no longer has any basis for claiming to be a legitimate student.
Readers may remember that not so long ago various celebrities and luminaries were actually criminally charged for conspiring with others to get their children into highbrow institutions of learning.
Of course, we don't actually know why these students were denied, but if ASU is putting a good face on a bad situation or, worse, covering up an incipient scandal involving multiple Chinese "students" who proved academically unsuitable, solely to retain the handsome fees remitted to the school — and I emphasize "if" — then denial of readmission is not only appropriate, it is the least of the penalties appropriate for all involved.
As the USA Today article makes clear, ASU President Michael Crow has involved himself, writing letters to the secretaries of DHS and the Department of State. That, too, is intriguing because his letter makes reference to a search of the electronic devices of these individuals at the time of arrival. Crow says this should not happen and calls for a rethinking of the policy.
Crow seems to hope for a repeat of what happened when CBP officers recently rejected a Palestinian student destined for Harvard University, and were later overruled, almost certainly because of pressure from Harvard. This story is briefly referenced in the USA Today article, but more can be found here. In that instance, the student apparently maintained a series of items — blogs, commentary, etc. — in his electronic possession that carried a distinctly anti-American point of view. His argument that the items were not written or posted by him rings hollow to my ears; one doubts that he would have maintained the links if he was not sympathetic to that point of view. Why, then, come to get an education in a country that you hate? And why should you be permitted to? Some readers may remind me of the Constitution's First Amendment protections. Don't bother: the First Amendment unequivocally does not attach to foreigners standing at our border seeking entry.
As to ASU President Crow's protestation against border searches of phones or other electronic paraphernalia: I disagree entirely with that line of thinking. A search of electronic devices is no different than a search of the baggage or other belongings of people seeking to enter the country. It is a first line of defense against all manner of harm, from narcotics to child pornography to intended acts of terror to espionage. All Americans benefit from such a policy, and it is entirely consistant with the sovereign right of the United States to control both who and what is being presented at our borders for entry.
One can't help but wonder exactly what was uncovered during such a border search, if indeed it happened. One also can't help but wonder if ASU is pressing the government for fear that out of displeasure, the Chinese government will take its foreign student fees elsewhere if it doesn't. Whatever the reason, the school is on the wrong side of this issue and its thinking represents exactly what is wrong with the sense of entitlement and self-justification that so often appears to permeate academia these days.
Going back to the second point I originally made above, and in my Backgrounder, perhaps it's time for SEVP to gird its loins and remind ASU that institutions of learning are only entitled to accept foreign students when given authorization by the federal government, and that this in turn is predicated upon ensuring that their nonimmigrant enrollees are, and remain, legitimate students and scholars.