Lost in America: Visa Program Struggles to Track Missing Foreign Students

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One school on the approved list, MicroPower Career Institute, licensed by the state of New York, continues to have four campuses on the approved list, even though five of the school’s top officials -- including its president -- were indicted on charges of visa fraud in May. According to the indictment, 80 percent of the foreign students enrolled MicroPower had delinquent attendance, putting them out of compliance with their visas. But the school did not report them, the indictment says. All five school officials have pleaded not guilty in the case.

ABC News visited MicroPower’s small fifth floor campus in a Manhattan office suite, but the school declined to make anyone available to comment.

Edge, who is Executive Associate Director at for ICE Homeland Security Investigations, said his agency had no choice but to continue to allow MicroPower to facilitate student visas.

“I can only say that this is the United States of America and everyone has due process,” Edge said.

The MicroPower case is one of several that touch on broader questions long raised about the student visa program.

Thomas Kean 9/11 Commission Co-Chair said the government has yet to address the security gaps the program has created. He said was stunned the federal government continues to lose track of so many foreign nationals who had entered the country with student visas. He noted that, even before the 9/11 terror attacks, federal officials had been aware of the gaps in the student visa program. The man who drove the van containing explosives into the World Trade Center garage in 1993 was also a student visa holder who was a no-show at school.

“It's been pointed out over and over and over again and the fact that nothing has been done about it yet... it's a very dangerous thing for all of us,” Kean said. “The fact that there's been no action on this is very bothersome.”

Janice Kephart, who was counsel to the 9/11 Commission and co-author of a separate report looking at how the hijackers entered the U.S., said the credibility of schools certified by ICE is another significant concern.

“When schools are not legitimate that enables terrorists to come here under a fraudulent basis and disappear into the fabric of society without anybody knowing that they are here for illegitimate reason,” Kephart said, “because the system itself will say they're here legitimately when in fact they're not.”

ICE has taken steps to address the issue, especially in the aftermath of a damning report by the Government Accountability Office in 2012, which found the agency had failed to adequately police for visa fraud. ICE officials told ABC News, for instance, that it has undertaken a new program to deploy field representatives around the country to personally inspect schools that had been approved to accept foreign students. So far, 15 field representatives have been hired, with a plan to ultimately employ 60 around the country, according to spokesperson Carissa Cutrell.

The agency has also launched a program -- so far installed at one airport, but planned for others -- that will immediately alert a customs inspector if a student is attempting to re-enter the country after their status has been flagged by a school official.

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