Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ICE Raid at UCSB

I was talking to the Chair of my department and she mentioned a meeting scheduled for today with Henry Yang, the Chancellor of the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Lisa and I speak all the time, and she had just assumed that I knew that few weeks ago (May 23, 2007) the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers (ominously acronymed ICE) had gone to confront an Iranian graduate student about her immigration status at 4:30 in the morning (the article says 5 a.m. but my colleague says it was earlier), escorted by the UCSB campus police. The Iranian student's papers were deemed in order, but her roommate, a third-year Korean undergraduate at UCSB, was taken away in handcuffs after the ICE officers asked for her documents and she did not have them. Apparently the student had an expired visitor visa from 2000 and had overstayed that, though I am still trying to learn more since I also just heard that her situation is being resolved and she will be allowed to remain here.

According to ICE, the visit to the graduate student housing was due to some inconsistencies in the student records the University is required to submit to the digital tracking computer program Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) in the Iranian student's record. But does this warrant a pre-dawn surprise raid? And a detention of another student? Even ICE policies suggest not:
The information contained in SEVIS is input by various academic institutions and exchange visitor programs. These schools are certified by ICE to use SEVIS and are also authorized to petition for foreign students and exchange visitors to enter the United States as nonimmigrant students. The information in SEVIS is used by ICE to carry out administrative enforcement of individual status violators, conduct criminal investigations of smuggling and fraud related to SEVIS, and for national security operations.

If the only evidence of a status violation is inconsistencies in SEVIS records, then the policy here calls for "administrative enforcement," which presumably means at least a preliminary phone call to the home institution to understand any discrepancies, and to arrange an appointment with the student in question if necessary. Such a surprise measure is for terrorists, not graduate students for whom ICE has raised administrative questions about their status.

The arrest of the Korean student was on May 24, 2007. As of June 4, she was in custody at a detention facility in Ventura County. A colleague tells me that thanks to the intervention of the University she is now back at school preparing for her finals.

Chancellor Yang is doing his best to organize the other University of California Chancellors to prevent a repeat of the event that occurred at UCSB elsewhere. In fact at the time of the ICE intrusion, the campus police were violating the University policy that required them to contact the Chancellor and not to show them directly to student housing.

The only way to stop these raids is to end the ugly fiction of "legal" and "illegal" residents, and insist that no one's presence anywhere might be criminal, a notion that has always been received with opprobrium everywhere, until movement becomes legal and then is embraced. Perhaps a few hundred years ago today's lawmakers would have supported King Henry VIII, who ordered the execution of 72,000 vagabonds, meaning anyone traveling outside their parish of birth without documented permission of the king. (See William Harrison, Description of England [1587] (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), p. 181. (For more on this see Reproducing the State, [Princeton, 1999] pp. 77-78).

If anyone in the sixteenth century were to have criticized policies restricting movement between villages, their words likely would be treated with the same bemusement that greets today's advocates of open borders among countries. The thought was that free movement within England would lead to a mass exodus to London and hence to its collapse under the weight of crushing poverty and overcrowding.

Prior experiences of tumult and then adjustment following the opening of internal borders suggests that within a period as short as one generation following the lifting of our present restrictions, these current ones will seem just as arbitrary and old-fashioned as those we find odd in early modern Europe. (The image is of the Ventura County Detention Facility)

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