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Fox's visit to Washington DC and New York

For immediate release: Thursday, October 4, 2001 01: 18

Fox may not like what he hears today in Washington, but it is a dramatically changed ballgame

· Fox to be fed up-beat rhetoric, but prospects are bleak for immigration reform that was the hot button issue just a few weeks ago.

· Mexican students could be banned at the border, if Senator Feinstein's measure is enacted.

· Terrorist attacks prompting comprehensive review of immigration regulations and the status of this country’s borders with Canada and Mexico, with international student visas a likely early target.

· Since on average 36 percent of all foreign students in U.S. come from Mexico, nationals of that country would be particularly affected by any visa embargo, marking a further deterioration of U.S.-Mexican relations, which already have begun to skid as a result of Mexico's defiant stance against invoking the Rio Pact as a collective anti-terrorist measure.

· Any visa moratorium, if successful, could have a devastating effect on U.S. educational institutions, banks, and small as well as large U.S. business enterprises, along with Mexico's modernization prospects.

When President Fox meets today with President Bush in Washington on a ceremonial visit to express his sympathy over the attacks on the Pentagon and New York, the conversation inevitably will move on, however briefly, to a discussion of U.S.-Mexican relations in the post-terrorist era. The Mexican president is likely to be unhappy over what he hears. Since Fox’s last visit to the country just days before the attack on the Twin Towers, the boisterous optimism surrounding prospects for an open border, legalization, amnesty, guest work programs, and an array of other border-integration measures, now has been replaced by the entire matter being put on the back burner - if even on the stove - where it is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, scores of anti-terrorist measures are being considered on a staff level by the Bush administration, some of which are mainly being targeted at strengthening this country’s notoriously porous borders with Canada and Mexico, along with reviewing a range of immigration issues. However, to Fox's anticipated great disappointment, none of these proposals are presently on the White House's agenda.

In the aftermath of allegations that at least one terrorist suspect (and perhaps a number of others) used a student visa or some fraudulent document to enter the country, various public figures, often with the best of intentions, are proposing legislation that could at least temporarily limit educational opportunities for foreign students wishing to matriculate in U.S. institutions. Two of the most active proponents for tighter controls on the issuance of student visas include Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is proposing a 6-month suspension on their being granted student visas and a database to track foreign students, and Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), a supporter of a 30-day waiting period for obtaining such a credential.

According to federal statistics, 36 percent of all international students in the U.S. are Mexican nationals, a fact that ultimately could further bedevil the now dramatically altered for-the-worse course of U.S.-Mexican relations. Senator Feinstein’s proposed legislation, if passed, would further darken the current mood of a once optimistic U.S.-Mexican partnership, as was reflected in Mexico’s principled refusal to invoke the Rio Pact at a recent OAS Foreign Ministerial meeting on terrorism. Meanwhile, a dialogue over amnesty for illegal migrants, free movement for Mexican trucks, and drug enforcement cooperation measures are all on hold, awaiting a resolution over border controls. The recent era of good feelings kindled by the amiable relationship between Presidents Bush and Fox, and which promoted the proposal of a liberalization of the status of Mexican migrants now illegally in the U.S., may be shriven by a new spate of negative attitudes. One of these could result in a newfound frustration among Mexico's educated youth, if visa restrictions are in fact enacted, an ominous portrait for U.S.-Mexican relations.

The High Costs of Blocking Visas Any artificial reduction in the number of foreign students in this country could have a profound social, economical and pedagogical impact on U.S. educational institutions, academics and small and large enterprises that depend upon the spending power of Mexican students and those from elsewhere in the world, who find themselves resident in this country. On many U.S. campuses, such students constitute upwards of 25 percent of all students making up the total student bodies. At any one time, Mexican students usually represent almost two-fifths of all foreign students in the country. The impact of such a moratorium would be exceedingly harmful both in the U.S. and Mexico even for the six-month period proposed by Senator Feinstein, and certainly would be devastating if it lasted any longer.

The High Cost of Suspending Student Visas The commercial ties of large high-tech U.S. firms with their Mexican counterparts might languish as the proposed visa restrictions begin to discourage Mexican companies from sending employees to the U.S. for specialized education for the new technology that they had just purchased, particularly when such a purchase was contingent on the availability of such training. Such a situation could slow down Mexico’s pace of modernization, as that country's young engineers would now find it difficult to obtain the necessary credentials to travel to the U.S. to receive specialized training in specific examples of the new technology. Not only would this have a counter-productive impact on U.S. manufacturers of capital goods (whose sale to Mexico could be delayed or cancelled by Mexican authorities), but any reduction in the large number of Mexican students who particularly favor U.S. institutions close to the border, or those specializing in a particular engineering or chemical specialty (like the University of Houston’s oil extraction program) could have a chilling effect on the financial health and academic vigor of the curriculum of many U.S. institutions. Due to the large number of Mexican students on campuses throughout the country, but particularly in southern and southwestern institutions, any reduction in their numbers would almost certainly lead to the shrinking of individual faculties with a resultant cut in the number of courses and programs offered, and with the total budget of annual library purchases and professional journal subscriptions having to be slashed. As such institutions introduce these aforementioned austerity measures as a result of the drop-out of Mexican and other foreign students from their institutions over visa problems, such steps could inexorably lead to a severe recession in local U.S. communities.

Students: wrong targets In the past few years, moves to strengthen regulations targeted at foreign students hoping to come to this country have generated a polemical struggle between INS officials who strongly call for tighter restrictions versus higher education administrators who vigorously opposed any increased barriers to foreign student matriculation on administrative, philosophical, financial, academic and pedagogical grounds. While effectively combating terrorism is of the utmost importance, educators in both countries insist that it must not be purchased at the cost of international scholarly exchange. Such action could damage the preeminent position now held by U.S. institutions in the field of higher education. It could also destabilize highly beneficial financial and intellectual arrangements that could be permanently damaged by such a policy, as well as compromise valuable ties in the field of higher learning along with a host of commercial connections between the two countries, which could be sundered. Meanwhile, a rational policy of issuing visas to all qualified Mexican students could have the beneficial effect of reducing the need of migrants from that country to later migrate to this country over the long run, by the creation of new jobs in Mexico, using the new U.S. technology now coming into Mexico, and the skills to operate it acquired as a result of their scholarly pursuits carried out in U.S. institutions.

Larry Birns, COHA Director and Jessica Marcy, COHA Research Associate

© Scoop Media

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