INS goes beyond regulating U.S. students

“Psst, what you in for? Assault? Burglary?”

“Actually, (ahem) I dropped my computer sciences class.”

While his fellow students were able to spend the days prior to finals week studying, Yashar Zendehdel, a junior economics major at the University of Colorado, found himself pacing a cell in the company of burglars and other felons awaiting deportation. The clientele at the school of hard knocks are not what they used to be.

In early December, well in advance of the Dec. 16 Immigration Naturalization Services deadline, Zendehdel, an Iranian national, traveled to Denver to comply with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s edict requiring adult, male, foreign nationals from an ever burgeoning list of countries to attend special registration at its nearest INS office. Before the ink had dried on his fingerprints, his troubles began.

U.S. immigration law stipulates that international students must take at least 12 credit hours but, as in Zendehdel’s case, this can be waived with permission from their institution. According to Zendehdel, INS officials, on seeing his transcript, said no such provision existed. INS officials refused to telephone Zendehdel’s university and, instead, promptly marched the shell-shocked young Iranian off to the nearest detention center pending deportation.

In all, Zendehdel was detained without legal representation for 40 hours. College is indeed a life-changing experience. Zendehdel was released only after friends stumped up the necessary $5,000 bail. While Zendehdel stewed in custody, repeated calls to the INS from Larry Bell, director for CU’s International Student and Scholar Services were not returned.

Closer to home, USF graduate Adullah Hatahet, who missed his registration deadline by a single day, was detained for four days and told he may face deportation. Fortunately for Hatahet, the INS extended the deadline after problems plagued the registration process nationwide.

In all, according to human rights group Amnesty International, approximately 400 non-immigrants were detained following the first of the special registration deadlines Dec. 16. AI reports state that some detainees were denied food, necessary medication and access to lawyers, in addition to being subject to strip searches and being hosed with cold water.

And it’s not only students and selected foreign nationals who have fallen foul of the INS’ crackdown on foreign nationals. Journalist Róger Calero spoke at USF recently about his post- Sept. 11 attacks experiences with the INS. A U.S. resident for 17 years, Nicaraguan Calero was recently detained without access to a lawyer for 10 days after returning to the United States from a trip abroad.

The basis for his detainment was a 1988 juvenile conviction for selling marijuana that Calero had declared on both his original residence application and his residence renewal in 2000. Calero, whose wife, home and job are in New York, is still facing deportation to Nicaragua.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, few would deny the need for America to police its borders or the importance of monitoring foreign nationals present in the United States on student or work visas. But in doing so, the United States must not add civil liberties to the list of Sept. 11 casualties.

The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the attacks, permits the long-term detention of non-citizens whom the attorney general has certified as terrorist threats. Such an act seems contrary to the Constitution, which states no person – not citizen – shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Certainly, the blanket use of this legislation to detain those guilty of nothing more than paper-work errors, or in the case of Calero, nothing at all, is an abuse of the authority granted to the INS. In their zeal to protect the freedoms cherished in this country, the INS is in danger of destroying those very same liberties.

Chris O’Donnell is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.