Congressional Republicans, with the help of the Bush administration, have begun an ill-advised campaign to make permanent the Patriot Act, which provided sweeping antiterrorism powers to federal law enforcement agents in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Important for a time and temporary in nature, the Act was intended to give the government necessary authority to monitor terrorist suspects. But for the last two years, it has also caused especially serious problems for international students and scholars trying to continue study at universities around the country, including Yale. We hope students and administrators will speak out against the proposal to continue these powers indefinitely and will influence other colleges to do the same.
The heightened security procedures include stringent new guidelines for screening student visas, yielding two million fewer visas in the last year than in the year before. Three incoming Yale freshmen and a handful of returning undergraduates missed the start of school in September, and a Hartford Courant study conducted earlier this year found hundreds of student scientists, including some from Yale, stuck in a “visa jam” that has brought many medical research projects in particular to an effective halt.
We have eased into code yellow this week but, at the urging of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, avoided falling into a lower state of alert. We should continue to put as high a premium on national security as the Republican congressmen and senators supporting Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s proposal to repeal the Patriot Act’s 2005 expiration date. But the act they support making permanent contains provisions far broader than just preventing terrorism. Under its auspices, law enforcement officials follow unnecessarily vague parameters, and in addition to eavesdropping on potential terrorists, they have forced countless legitimate students and researchers into unnecessary backlogs. There is a limit to the amount of freedom we can ask people to sacrifice in the name of safety, and the Patriot Act exceeds it.
Over the last decade, Yale has seen a dramatic increase in its international population, in part because of considerable administrative efforts to attract foreign students. The number of international scholars has gone up 98 percent since 1993, and last year the undergraduate admissions office began a policy of need-blind admissions for international applicants. Around the same time, University administrators faced growing concerns about a proposal to limit the access of foreign students to some scientific materials. In an interview with the News, Richard Jacobs, Yale’s associate vice president for federal relations, said the last thing the University wanted was “to get into a situation where a student could get admitted into the country and not be able to study whatever they want.”
If efforts to extend the Patriot Act are successful, we might find ourselves in a situation where students cannot even gain admittance to the country, let alone have access to certain materials on Science Hill. After last semester’s Yale Corporation meeting, Pres. Levin said he believes international students should have “the run of the University.” We urge the administration to speak up now to make sure the international students it worked so hard to attract can continue to have full access to all of the University’s resources.