Feinstein’s proposed visa-freeze could hurt Berkeley

Steven Fyffe Special to the Daily Planet
Friday September 28, 2001

While Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed six-month moratorium on student visas is designed to heighten security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some people are saying that the measure could hurt Berkeley businesses and undermine cherished local values of freedom and democracy. 

Berkeley would be harder hit than most other parts of California if the proposed visa freeze went into effect, said Michael Dardia, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. 

“Retail businesses have been hit hard already,” he said. “Retailers that cater to foreign students would suffer some pain, because small businesses tend to be much more cash dependent. They don’t have the reserves to carry them through slow periods.” 

In the last academic year, foreign students accounted for 19.6 percent of UC Berkeley’s graduate student population, according to Thomas Cesa, a statistician in the Office of Student Research at Berkeley. 

The freeze could take $10-$15 million out of Berkeley’s economy, Dardia estimated. 

California as a whole would stand to lose $175-$350 million, which is not a lot considering the amount of money the state generates, Dardia said. “It’s trivial. The state economy is $1.3 trillion. To put that in perspective, it is about three days of auto sales.” 

On a more ideological level, local Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Berkeley, is worried Feinstein’s proposal could undermine freedom and democracy, key values in Berkeley. 

“About a million students come into the U.S. to study, and this would in effect penalize the many because of the few,” said Andrew Sousa, Lee’s press secretary. 

“These programs are one of the best ways that we can support democracy throughout the world.” 

Lee would certainly support tightening the immigration process to make sure student visas are not being abused, Sousa said. 

“There does need to be some sort of a student visa process, that is clear. We need to make sure that the people who have student visas are using those to study here.” 

Senator Feinstein proposed the freeze on student visas after reports that Hani Hanjour, one of the suspected terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, entered the United States to study English at a language school in Oakland. 

Michael Palm, marketing director for the school, a division of Berlitz International Inc. which leases space at Holy Names College, said the school had accepted a man named Hani Hanjour into the program. 

Hanjour applied to study in Oakland through an agent in Saudi Arabia, providing a two-page application and a letter from a bank to prove he had enough money to pay for the course. When the fall quarter started, he did not show up for class. 

The FBI contacted the school and took Hanjour’s files within two days of the terrorist attacks, the spokesman said. 

“We have not received confirmation from the federal authorities that this is the same individual (that was involved in the attacks),” Palm said.