‘Border Commuter’ Students to Face Increased ScrutinyStudents from Mexico who travel across the border regularly to attend college classes in the United States soon will face increased scrutiny unless Congress acts quickly.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has said it will begin enforcement of an existing statute that, in effect, would require these so-called border commuter students to obtain regular student visas to attend college. The move is likely to reduce the number of these students, who generally would show only an ID at a border crossing to take part-time classes at colleges in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Some members of Congress are seeking emergency legislation to remedy the problem, saying that U.S. immigration law lacks appropriate rules to deal with these border commuter students. But such bills are not likely to gain approval before the INS begins enforcing existing law at the start of the fall semester.
To attend classes under the new enforcement system, border commuters would have to apply for visas that require full-time college attendance, which is not practical since many commuters work in Mexico during the day and take one or two classes in the evening.
Students who commute from Canada for part-time U.S. study also would be affected by the new enforcement policy.
“Even in light of 9/11, it caught people off guard,” says Chuck Hoyack, dean of the Douglas campus of Cochise College in Arizona. Under the new enforcement approach, he says, “you can cross the border to go to the grocery store or to visit relatives but not to take a class.”
Traditionally, 200 to 250 Mexican residents a year have attended classes at Cochise, which enrolls about 1,500 students overall, he says. With the new INS ruling, Douglas has suspended its evening English as a Second Language program after recommending that students from Mexico not attend for fear that they would face immigration penalties.
Congress would like to remedy the problem by creating a new visa category for these border commuters. Legislation from Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, would create a new category — F-3 and M-3 visas — for border commuters. The F-3 would go to students in academic programs and the M-3 would focus on vocational programs.
Most foreign students who come to the United States generally obtain an F-1 visa for academic work or an M-1 visa for vocational study. But to qualify for these visas, students must take at least 12 hours of coursework on a degree track, and they also must document that they can pay for tuition and room and board.
“I agree with the INS that we need to tighten up enforcement of our immigration laws,” says Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a bill co-sponsor. “However, achieving this goal does not mean that we have to prohibit all part-time commuter students from attending classes at schools in the United States.”
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