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Antiterrorism memo jolts USF

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Some members of the University of South Florida faculty were outraged Thursday by a memo from provost David Stamps about a federal mandate designed to curb terrorism.

The e-mail to department chairmen, graduate and undergraduate advisers and associate deans outlines a measure that requires students from five countries to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed.

Known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, it took effect last Friday.

It requires nonimmigrant males who are at least 16 years old and from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria or Sudan to register with Immigration and Naturalization Service officials by Dec. 16. The program is intended to create a database of U.S. visa holders and to expel anyone deemed a danger to national security.

The memo trickled down from the U.S. attorney general, to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, through the state Department of Education and on to USF.

Not everyone was pleased.

"Don't you think it's outrageous that the government is asking people at a university to turn in students?" said Marie Curkan-Flanagan, a mass communications professor.

"That's not what we do. We're educators. What are we supposed to do, see someone brown in our classes and say, "Did you turn yourself in?' "

David Austell, director of international student and scholar services, said professors would never be asked to profile students or turn them in.

"Faculty would not have this kind of responsibility," Austell said. "That's not the intent. The intent is just to get the word out in any way possible. You can chalk this up to homeland security."

Besides, he said, USF has about 2,800 foreign students on campus, and only three of them come from one of the countries on the list.

Joann McCarthy, dean of international students, said the e-mail probably didn't need to be distributed throughout the university.

"It's unfortunate that people were upset about it. It probably could have been handled very easily by our office," McCarthy said. "We keep a pretty close eye on it. We notify these students that they need to do this or be out of status."

The U.S. State Department has said that visitors from the five nations face harsher scrutiny because intelligence reports show that those countries sponsor terrorism. So far, women have not been required to register because they aren't deemed as high a security threat as males.

After registering and interviewing with INS officials, the men must check in every 12 months to provide proof of residency, employment or enrollment in school. According to the State Department, failure to comply could result in arrest, incarceration, a $1,000 fine and possible deportation.

Curkan-Flanagan said it isn't important whether faculty members were asked to help identify foreign students. Singling them out at all is wrong, she said.

"It's just the most outrageous thing I've ever heard of in my life," she said. "It goes against everything this country is built on."

_ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.