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American Muslim

The Independent Star -  December 21, 2003

Patriot Act puts foreign students under scrutiny

By Milan Patel, 14 and Matt Stone, 17

Some international students at Purdue University say they have felt some repercussions of the Patriot Act. The students, from Ethiopia, Kuwait, India and Singapore, received their student visas before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

All the students expressed some concern about people from various ethnic backgrounds enduring more scrutiny, particularly at airports. Loulwa Salem, who is Lebanese but was born and has lived in Kuwait, explained what happened when she went home to Lebanon last summer: "Even though I hold a green card and that's how I enter and exit the States, and my sister was with me, and my sister is an American citizen -- she was born in the States -- we were still searched a lot, probably because of the way we look. We look Middle Eastern."


Nigel Thavasi, of Singapore, has undergone similar searches but thinks no one population is targeted. "On every full flight from Singapore, especially on United Airlines or Singapore Airlines, everybody gets harassed the same amount," he said.


But Anjali Parihar, whose family has lived in India and Kuwait, complained that international students are scrutinized before they even arrive in the United States. "It's harder now to get a visa to come here for four years. Like when you are applying for an American visa, you have to give more information, and they could look into your records at any point in time," she said.

None of the students reports being discriminated against at Purdue, though they have some concerns that Middle Eastern students might be targeted more by law enforcement.

Salem said if the law is applied to everyone equally, she is not concerned. "But if it's the case that they only do it to certain groups of people, then that would definitely be a violation."

Thavasi noted that the law is supposed to affect only people guilty of criminal activity. "As long as we stay away from legal problems, it's all right," he said.

Salem worries that her family might not be able to attend her graduation. "One of my main concerns right now is that two brothers and my mom and my sister live outside the States. . . . The government might not grant them a visa 'cause my brothers have tried before to get a visa, and they were denied," she said.

Parihar is concerned that her job prospects will be limited. "Companies would rather take another local citizen because it's so much less paperwork for them," she said.

Though most of the students agreed the Patriot Act causes hardships, they understand the desire of the United States to protect its borders. "I find it a huge inconvenience every time I fly," Thavasi said, "but other than that, I don't really think it's affecting me or will affect me."

John Krull, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, is not so understanding. "I don't buy the argument that it's a tradeoff -- that you can have either freedom or security. I think you can be both safe and free," he said. "Freedom is not elastic. Once it's taken away, it just doesn't bounce back."

Krull and others say the Patriot Act undermines the Bill of Rights. "The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights, and they are primarily restraints upon government's ability to influence or coerce individuals. Five of those 10 amendments have been significantly altered, primarily by the Patriot Act," Krull said.

According to Krull, the Patriot Act has most affected the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

Under the Fourth Amendment, searches are permitted only with a warrant, which lists the things or people that officials intend to find and seize. A warrant is issued only after law enforcement officials present evidence that they have "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed.

Under the Patriot Act, it is possible to be detained without a warrant. "The standard that's set forth in the Fourth Amendment is that you've got to have probable cause before you invade someone's personal space," Krull said.

In addition, he said, the act lets agencies wiretap phones and look at people's e-mails to see whether they are involved in terrorism.

"It also just kind of reverses what should be the operating equation for a self-governing society, namely that government is accountable to its citizens, rather than the current equation, which the Patriot Act put in place, and that is that citizens are accountable to their government," Krull said.