- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

A government-mandated program being used by American University to monitor housing, employment, financial information and immigration status has prompted concern among international students and faculty.
School officials said Wednesday that the "tracking system" is able to closely monitor and report any changes in that information, even whether students are attending class.
"Students were alarmed, I think initially, when they heard about these new reporting requirements, especially since it's called a tracking system," said Fanta Aw, director of International Student Services at American. "There was a lot of nervousness attached to it."
The school will use a new computer system that has centralized all information on international students and faculty, in compliance with guidelines set forth by the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), as well as the Enhanced Border Security Act and the Patriot Act.
"AU can notify the INS where our students sleep," said university Vice President Tom Myers.
The INS began voluntary implementation of SEVIS in July, and set a deadline of Jan. 30, 2003, for all universities with international students to begin using the system. All schools must first be approved for enrollment of nonimmigrant foreign students and receive a password for the system, which was in place before the September 11 terrorist attacks, but whose implementation was sped up afterward.
One of the five suspected hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington Dulles International Airport, which was flown into the Pentagon on September 11, is thought to have entered the United States on a F-1 student visa. Hani Hanjour applied to study English at an Oakland, Calif., college, but was never monitored after he failed to show up for classes.
Of the 19 terrorists who took part in the September 11 attack, 15 entered on business or tourists visas, federal officials have said.
"We remain committed to welcoming and accommodating those who come to America to study in our universities," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in May, when SEVIS was implemented. "However, we can no longer allow our hospitality to be abused."
Universities will immediately report vital information, such as a student's failure to appear for classes, changes in their employment, or a reduced course load, to SEVIS, said Todd Sedmak, AU spokesman. Changes in their address or course of study will be relayed in 21 to 30 days. That information will be monitored and tracked by Dallas-based government subcontractor Affiliated Computer Systems, the same company involved in tracking traffic-camera citations for metropolitan area police systems.
Numerous foreign students expressed discomfort at being "tracked" by a system that records such particulars as their permanent foreign address, nationality, citizenship and U.S. address, as well as employment, academic and financial information.
"It's not a pleasant thing, the fact that they call it a tracking system," said Rozalia Hristova, 25, a graduate journalism student at AU, who is from Bulgaria.
"It's very sad that many people see international students as coming to hijack planes.
"I think there is a lot of government tracking in this country, especially now," she said.
Miss Aw said the university made a priority of working with students to help them understand the system.
"Once they know what's involved, they're not nervous. It's standard information. Students were most concerned about making sure whatever information reported was accurate," she said.
"We are ready today to give the INS all kinds of information. But we're also doing things internally to put our international students at ease," said Mr. Sedmak.
Bolivian student Mario Landivar, 22, said the new requirements are "tedious, but you feel it's justified after 9/11."
Mr. Sedmak said AU's comprehensive system and efforts to involve and reassure students are unrivaled among universities, and that many schools may be technically compatible by the end of the month, but that the efficiency of their systems could be suspect.
"Other schools are far from meeting the January 2003 deadline for compatibility," Mr. Sedmak said. "These schools are either purchasing systems from outside vendors that may work with the school's system or with SEVIS, or panicking. Many schools have no idea how or where to start."
Spokesmen at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland both said they expected to be ready for SEVIS by the end of the month.

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