Bill proposes U monitoring of foreign students

Liz Kohman

University administration might have to monitor international students if new state anti-terrorism legislation passes.

Legislators from the House Crime Prevention Committee met Thursday to discuss a bill changing the way Minnesota deals with international students, criminal activity and police training.

“There needs to be significant punishment,” said committee Chairman John Tuma, R-Northfield, one of the bill’s authors.

The bill would require the University to report the names, addresses and academic status of all international students to the state attorney general. University administration would also need to report any students who received visas and failed to attend classes.

Sulieman Nader, president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said he had some concerns with the international student tracking system.

“I understand the need for tracking,” Nader said. “But it’s treating students like they did something wrong. My only worry is where this is going to lead us. What next?”

The University has already started preparing a system to report the information concerning international students in compliance with the USA Patriot Act, which Congress passed last fall.

“We’ve been anticipating we’d have to do this for some time,” said Kay Thomas, director of the University International Student Services program. Thomas said the University is working on the PeopleSoft computer system to make sure all the information is available. “There’s a lot of unknowns yet,” she said.

Robert Kvavik, associate vice president for the University, said the government wants to collect more data on international students but won’t fund it.

Currently, there are approximately 3,400 international students enrolled in classes at the University.

“It’s a very difficult balancing act,” Tuma said. “We need to be
careful and respectful of people coming.” He also said it was fair to expect students coming to the University on student visas to attend their classes.

“We are inviting these students here. We should at least make sure they’re appearing here,” Tuma said.

The bill also includes a provision to create a database of all the people and corporations possessing or maintaining chemicals capable of becoming biological weapons.

As part of the legislation, terrorism would be another reason for government data to be classified as nonpublic.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said “terrorism” should be defined in the bill because of its varied possible meanings.

Other sections in the bill would make it easier for law enforcement to monitor suspected terrorists electronically, through cell phones and voicemail.

“I’m disquieted by the general notion that we don’t have enough security,” said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. “There may not be anything we can do to stop a suicide bomber.”

Tuma said he didn’t think the bill would stop all terrorism but hoped it would make domestic terrorists think twice before acting.

The legislation also includes appropriations for extra security measures at the Capitol and additional police training.

Legislators said they will have more definite numbers next week about the bill’s funding and expect to vote on the proposal after more thorough discussions.

More information is available at www.leg.state.mn.us concerning the legislation.

“This is truly a work in progress,” Tuma said. “I want a full dissection of this bill.”