Students and administrators involved in international programs at Kansas University and Baker University are keeping a wary eye on congressional proposals that would allow the government a tighter rein on foreign students.
But it's unclear what affect the proposals which range from check-ins with Immigration and Naturalization Service to fingerprinting students will have at the universities.
"I don't think any of us involved in international education would argue with the notion we need to have security in place when we let anyone into the country, not just students," said Diana Carlin, dean of KU's Graduate School and international programs.
Lawmakers began questioning student visa policies after INS announced that at least one of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks Ahmed Alghamdi was in the United States on a student visa.
Universities are only required to report to INS when an international student stops attending classes. Wichita State University followed that regulation in 1990, when Eyad Ismail, a Kuwaiti-born citizen of Jordan, stopped attending classes.
However, three years later, officials say, he drove a truck bomb into the underground garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people.
Some in Congress, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., have said those events show a need to bolster the tracking of international students in the United States.
A bill co-authored by Brownback approved Thursday by the Senate provides increased funding for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a database scheduled to be in place by 2003.
The system will gather information such as name, address, academic status and disciplinary actions against a student. It's now being tested by 12 universities.
"The anti-terrorist act passed today still leaves some gaps in record-keeping in tracking students, and we need to fill those gaps for national security reasons," Brownback said.
He said he planned to introduce a bill with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., next week requiring more communication between universities and INS. For instance, universities would have to contact INS when a student arrives for a semester.
No 'magic formula'
But Earl Kirk, registrar at Baker University, where about 30 international students are enrolled, said he didn't think the new requirements were necessary.
"I'm finding we're looking for a magic formula to fight evil," he said. "Our own experience with our own friends and family hasn't been that successful. I don't know that we're going to be any more successful because they're from another country."
He added that the database wouldn't help INS officials find students who leave the school.
Carlin said she was concerned that new regulations would place a financial burden on universities.
"We don't have enough money to hire the staff to do the work we do normally," she said. "It becomes an unfunded mandate for the schools."
And she said she didn't know how closely university officials could be expected to follow the 1,677 international students enrolled at KU.
"Realistically, how closely they want us to track people is one issue," she said. "Do they want us to track every move? Do they want us to let them know if they drop out? Do they want us to let them know every time they leave Lawrence?
"This is a big place, and I don't know how much we're supposed to track them."
Some international students say the proposed regulations could infringe on their rights.
Mark Nola, vice president of the KU Vietnamese Student Assn., said he was especially concerned by a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would require students to present fingerprints and photographs to INS.
"Usually when you're fingerprinted, you're being booked into the county jail," he said. "Everyone should be treated equally. Why should we be treated like criminals?"
But Nola, a sophomore pre-med major, agreed that INS officials should keep better track of international students.
"I'd rather be safe and have to sacrifice things," he said.
Husameedin Al-Madani, a KU junior in computer science from Saudi Arabia, said he thought the background checks conducted by INS officials before students are granted visas were sufficient.
But he said he would yield to the judgment of national security officials if they thought more checks or tracking were necessary.
"I'm part of this country," he said. "I'm here. The safety of the country is my safety and the safety of my wife and kid."