Monitoring of foreign students off track

By Alfonso Chardy Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) MIAMI _ More than a year and a half after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal immigration officials cannot properly track foreign students because a much-touted electronic monitoring system is not fully operational, according to a new Justice Department report. A failure to closely track foreign students is a major criticism by those concerned about the government’s ability to safeguard the United States. Three of the Sept. 11 terrorits had applied for student visas and one had enrolled in an English-language school, but never showed up for classes. The report’s release comes as federal, state and local authorities brace for possible terrorist attacks in retaliation for an almost certain U.S. invasion of Iraq. The report examined whether SEVIS, the acronym for the computerized system, allows federal immigration authorities to better detect if a foreign student fails to show up for assigned courses. The report suggests that’s not the case because SEVIS is not fully operational despite promises by federal immigration officials to have it up and running by January. In fact, the report says, SEVIS will not contain information on all students until at least Aug. 1. Colleges and universities enter information on students into the computer system. While noting that some progress has been made in implementing the system, the report said that SEVIS is not yet fully implemented _ “in addition, while the SEVIS database contains information on newly enrolled foreign students, it will not contain information on all continuing foreign students until August 1, 2003.” But Chris Bentley, a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, disputed the inspector general’s report. “The bureau disagrees with the inspector general’s assertion that the system has not been fully implemented,” Bentley said. “The… system was implemented on Jan. 1, 2003, which is the date we had advertised all along.” In a letter to Glenn Fine, the inspector general, bureau acting assistant secretary Michael Garcia acknowledged a gradual, phased implementation of the system to give schools time to add student information to the database. “Schools needed adequate time to review and convert the considerable data on their continuing students,” Garcia wrote. In the 2001-2002 academic year there were 582,996 foreign students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Miami Herald. Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.