Authorities crack down on Middle Eastern students

By Ben Fox The Associated Press
Thursday December 13, 2001

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Immigration authorities arrested 10 people in the San Diego area Wednesday in a first-of-its-kind crackdown on Middle Eastern students suspected of violating the terms of their visas by not being in school. 

None of those arrested is suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities said. 

Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said about 50 people were being sought in San Diego area. 

The crackdown is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, Mack said. It is part of the agency’s attempt to better track foreign students after it was revealed that one of the Sept. 11 terrorists, Saudi native Hani Hanjour, had entered the country as a student. 

Authorities began compiling a database of the nearly 600,000 foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But that effort languished amid opposition from school officials who believed it would hurt recruitment and be seen as intrusive. 

In recent weeks, INS officials in San Diego discussed the issue with representatives of about 35 schools, including the University of California at San Diego. They checked the records of students from certain nations under government scrutiny. 

Agents sought Wednesday to interview San Diego-area students born in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen. About 90 percent of the students listed in INS records as being at local education institutions were enrolled. About 50 were not. 

Agents began the crackdown at 5 a.m., visiting more than a dozen homes in San Diego County. Mack said they arrested 10 men and women, including the brother of one student. 

Muslim leaders condemned the roundup as discriminatory. 

“This type of activity, people defaulting on their visas, is not particular to the Arab community,” said Mohammed Nasser, the director of the San Diego chapter of the Muslim-American Society. “Many, many people come here from across the world looking for opportunity.”