THOUGHTS WORTHY OF AN INS BUREAUCRAT: Some comments on the latest intellectual disaster passing for a New York Times editorial.
Today's effort is an attempted banishment of John Ashcroft's proposal to have entrants into the U.S. from certain countries register with and regularly report to the government.
Congress recently passed legislation to address these weaknesses, but past Congressional mandates have paid few dividends. Border security remains porous, and there has been little effort, despite repeated promises, to provide consular officials around the world who make the crucial rulings on visa applications with access to law enforcement and intelligence databases. State Department officers overseas, for instance, did not know that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers had overstayed previous visas to America, let alone that the C.I.A. knew one of them had connections to Al Qaeda.
All the more reason to focus the government's resources on a target narrower than the set consisting of every entrant into the U.S. - such as, for example, the demographic group disproportionally likely to contain terrorists.
Similarly, the immigration service's desire to keep better track of foreign students studying in the United States has been thwarted by delays over the years and by objections from universities. The values and practices of American universities need not be undermined by reforms in the way they maintain records about foreign students.
Just wondering...why do universities get a draft exemption from the war against terror? I could take a cheap shot at how the "values and practices of American universities" include having Hamas supporters deliver commencement addresses at Harvard,
but this blog is above such cheap shots. Of course it is.
Seriously, if the universities' reluctance to cooperate with immigration authorities have the effect of abetting terrorism, then there is no reason why that reluctance shouldn't come under scrutiny. The Times' editors need only look at the searing piece it recently published on those caught in the World Trade Center
for a reminder of why we - even universities - need to revisit our old "values and practices."
These and other lapses will not be remedied by the wholesale fingerprinting of tens of thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders. Indeed, set against the immigration service's fundamental needs, this seems like a desperation move from a Justice Department that has failed through both Democratic and Republican administrations to manage the I.N.S. adequately and fix its chronic problems.
Desperate times call for desparate measures...seriously, the Times' editors have just described the deep-seated rot at the immigration authorities. Perhaps, when faced with the people trying to kill untold thousands of Americans, who are disproportionally from certain countries and unlikely to wait until the immigration services' "fundamental needs" are met, the government might be justified in a patchwork measure that might actually keep out many such people?
There is nothing wrong with asking long-term foreign visitors to demonstrate at intervals that they are doing what they said they would do when they applied for visas. But fingerprinting and registering people from certain suspect countries will provide only an illusion of security and subject many innocent visitors to the kind of intrusive checks that Americans traveling abroad would find offensive if applied to them.
The war on terrorism requires overhauling the visa and immigration system for everyone, not just Muslim or Arab visitors. As he goes about the necessary business of tightening border security, Mr. Ashcroft should address basic problems rather than settling for quick but ultimately ineffective solutions.
Here is the crux of the Times' arguments: a refusal to admit that special scrutiny of entrants from "certain suspect countries" can ever be justified. It is an argument against the principle of profiling, evidence be damned - and even if, as Eugene Volokh points out,
the basis for such profiling is as blessed in U.S. legal sources as possible. For the Times' editors, the government can do nothing to keep terrorists out of the country if such efforts are specifically focused on where the terrorists are most likely to be found - in other words, if such efforts are those which are most likely to succeed. Only in the Times' universe is the risk of a generalization greater than the risk of terrorism.
UPDATE: As long as we're on the subject of "the values and practices of American universities," check out this article by Nicholas Confessore
about how lobbyists for foreign students eviscerated a system that would have worked in tracking foreign students. Thanks to Josh Marshall, who has covered this story extensively
(also see here)
Marshall points out that another real problem is the Bush administration's unwillingness to engage interests deeply embedded in the federal bureaucracies (pick your three-letter word: FBI, CIA, INS). All true - I've been very pro-immigration myself, with two caveats: 1) that should not be incompatible with a properly functioning (reconstituted) INS equivalent, set up to monitor certain basics and enforce when necessary, and 2) 9/11 showed that security concerns should be given greater emphasis than was previously the case, even if some openness is compromised. Neither proposition sounds earth-shattering, I know, but each seem to escape too many. Contra the Times' editors, the likely problem is that the Bush administration is not going far enough.
ANOTHER UPDATE: OK, perhaps this is a reminder why I've tried to give up writing this stuff late at night. Reading the editorial again, it appears that the Times is in fact advocating reforms in how the universities report information about foreign students, in its usual high-minded way. My bad; the Times may in fact be advocating the drafting of the universities in the war on terror after all. (Is it too much to expect them to come out and actually say so? Of course.) Based on the rest of the editorial, though, I assume that the Times' editors would be against having universities report information about foreign students based on their country of origin, so the larger point still stands.