By George H. Tsai
As a nation with more institutes of higher learning than any other country, the United States has accepted young people from every part of the world seeking to advance their studies.
It was and perhaps still is the easiest way to come to this country as a student if he or she passed TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and had enough money for a one-year tuition. There was no background check.
Every year hundreds of thousands of foreign students pour onto our campuses. Of course, they didn’t all come here on their own expenses. Some pursue their studies on scholarships. Most of the foreign students worked very hard to achieve their academic goals. After completing their studies, they either return to their homeland or stay in this country to build a new career.
However, some foreign students never registered with the colleges that granted them Form I-20 for admission; they took advantage of this opportunity to take up non-academic ventures once they entered this country. Others came here just for evil deeds, like the kamikaze hijackers who slammed American airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, killing nearly 5,000 innocent people. We are still reeling from this unprecedented tragedy in American history.
From now on, all American colleges (about 3,000), together with the Immigration and Naturalization Services, should conduct a thorough investigation into the background of every foreign student applying to our schools. No less, the INS and American embassies should make comprehensive background checks of those wishing to visit the United States.
Secretary of State Colin Powell announced earlier this month that the United States would restrict issuance of visas to people, including students, from 27 Islamic nations for security reasons. The decision is by no means discriminatory, since all the hijackers in the WTC attack were Islamic fanatics.
Besides, the INS should have a zero-tolerance policy at ringleaders or “snake heads” responsible for most of the illegals entering this country. These smugglers are bloodsuckers — coercing huge fees from the immigrants and their families — and should be given the severest punishment if convicted.
There are many small private colleges, especially language schools, which perhaps need foreign students and tuitions to keep their doors open. For the sake of national security, they must toughen their admission regulations. Flight schools, which attract lots of foreign extremists, should take strong precautions to avoid turning out terrorist monsters. Most of the hijackers in the WTC attack received their training at flight schools in Arizona, Florida, Ohio and other parts of the country. If these schools had conducted stringent background checks, the WTC would have stood intact today.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 tragedy, we had another trauma — anthrax attacks. It may be a brazen act of a homegrown maniac or a foreign-born fanatic who came to the United States as a student in biochemistry. I am confident that the FBI will be able to track him down — it’s only a matter of time.
Anthrax has become the most fearful word not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says there are 46 terrorist organizations in the world. Those terrorists may try to sneak into this country disguising as students, refugees or business people.
Anthrax, an invisible weapon, is posing a serious threat to American way of life and to our economy. As I write this column, 18 Americans had contracted anthrax, and the bacteria killed four of them.
Now people hesitate to go shopping at malls. It seems there were fewer cars in the parking lot at the mall on 20th Avenue in College Point. Many people link their hesitance to fear they may inhale anthrax spores. Some are too scared to go to work by subway.
A 61-year-old New York City woman succumbed to the bacteria on Oct. 31. Her death has baffled the health and law enforcement authorities. It was reported the victim, who worked at a city hospital, inhaled anthrax spores from her own clothing that might have an contact with unknown objects on her way home from work. Investigators were using her MetroCard to trace the subway routes she took.
The anthrax scare apparently chilled Halloween spirit. I bought quantities of candy to treat kiddies in my neighborhood. But fewer showed up, and no one knocked on my door after 5. While trick-or-treating, a kid said in front of a TV camera that he would not eat the candy he got for fear the candy might have been laced with poison by terrorists.
It happens to be good advice, terrorists or no — ids should be wary of candy from strangers.
But it’s a shame how these fanatics have affected so much of our lives and attitude.