Last Wednesday, international students received an email from Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, director and associate dean of the International Students Office, warning them to be prepared for a new and potentially time-consuming border inspection process when re-entering the U.S. Guichard-Ashbrook stated that the new inspection process is a “direct response” to the Boston Marathon bombings.
On May 2, a senior official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection circulated a memo ordering border agents to verify that all international students entering the United States are traveling on a valid student visa. The order comes in response to the discovery that a Kazakh student accused of hiding evidence on behalf of the younger Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, entered the U.S. on an invalid student visa in January.
At present, international students’ comings and goings are monitored by the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, student visas were only verified by SEVIS if a student entering the country was selected for a second inspection by border agents. According to Guichard-Ashbrook’s email, going forward secondary inspections will be required for all foreign students entering the U.S. It is unclear how this additional inspection may affect wait times at the border but the ISO has warned students to expect delays.
Emily Eros, a Canadian and first year Master’s student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (Course 11), reacted to the news. “The news struck me as an unsurprising and ineffective reaction to the Boston bombings. The actions seem intended to show that the US is stepping up to prevent future attacks, but in reality, I doubt these measures will have any effect beyond making additional work for border agents and additional hassle for international students. We already have our documents examined, our retinas scanned, and our fingerprints taken each and every time we enter the country. Is an automatic secondary inspection really necessary? Will showing a self-printed course registration really step up security?”
In her email, Guichard-Ashbrook suggested international students travel with copies of their Spring 2013 and Fall 2013 class registrations to present to border agents as additional evidence of their student status.
Other students stated that they felt the change in the visa inspection process was a superfluous reaction to the bombings given that the Tsarnaev brothers, the primary suspects behind the Boston bombings, were not in the U.S. on student visas. Younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was a naturalized U.S. citizen. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a police shoot out several days after the bombings, held a green card and was therefore considered a permanent resident of the U.S.
Guichard-Ashbrook’s email concludes with an apology to the international student body, “On behalf of the entire ISO staff, I want to let you know that we are so very sorry that you have to contend with these new, very strict requirements. International students in the U.S. are overwhelming compliant and law-abiding visitors to the U.S. through out their academic programs and beyond. These are challenging times for the U.S. as government wrestles with how to make our borders more secure, while at the same time making all of you feel welcomed and valued in the U.S.”