At Airports, International and Minority Students Feel Targeted

According to a study published in VOA News, fewer international students are now applying for US universities.

Nearly four in ten US colleges and universities have reported a decline in international student applications, according to a recent survey by six higher education groups. The highest number of declines comes from the Middle East, especially Iran, which is one of six countries for which US President Donald J. Trump has instituted a temporary ban on travelers.

On a recent trip back from Europe, a group of friends and a Manhattan College student who would like to remain unnamed were waiting on the US citizen’s line for customs where passports must be scanned and marked in order to determine what’s your next step.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection, this automated passport control (APC) is a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that expedites the entry process for US, Canadian and eligible Visa Waiver Program international travelers by providing an automated process through CBP’s Primary Inspection area.

Travelers are prompted to scan their passport, take a photograph using the kiosk, and answer a series of CBP inspection related questions verifying biographic and flight information. Once passengers have completed the series of questions, a receipt will be issued.  Travelers then bring their passport and receipt to a CBP Officer to finalize their inspection for entry into the United States.

After scanning his passport, the student was marked with an “X” in the receipt, and their fellow American friends were marked with an “O”.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection, the “X” can mean many different things: random inspection; you have items to declare; you have duty to pay; you have agriculture products that need to be examined; your membership may need review; your fingerprints may not have matched, the system may have trouble completing the transaction; you may have timed out on one of the screens, or other issues.

The line for those marked with an “X” lasted two and a half hours while the other line, for those marked with an “O”, lasted thirty minutes. The “X” line was very diverse in contrast with the “O” line where the people were mostly white.

When the student asked a customs officer, “Why was I marked with an ‘X’?”, he simply said: “Because you have a Hispanic last name,” the student reported to have felt like a second class US citizen.

According to an article by Julian Mark published in The Points Guy, many others have also been affected by this.

“Limiting immigration is causing ripple effects at airports around the world for people attempting to fly to the United States, and in some cases, for those who have already arrived,” Mark said. And although this is true, his article goes on to say that, “US citizens are not affected by the restrictions on entry into the United States.”

With this statement he seems to ignore the oppression that the Hispanic-Latino community is confronting at airports, even though they are not directly affected by Trump’s travel ban and most importantly, are supposed to enjoy the same rights as fellow Americans, based on their US citizenship.

Another Manhattan College student also went through a similar situation. Valeska Flores, a junior civil engineering major, is a US citizen born in Peru.

“When I saw that the people in the ‘X’ line contained black people, Middle Eastern people, Asian people, Hispanic people, and that the ‘O’ line was primarily composed of white people, that’s when I came to the conclusion that my receipt being marked with an ‘X’ had a lot to do with the fact that I am Hispanic,” Flores said.

Flores says she has traveled internationally several times and she has always gotten marked with an “X,”, and her father has too.

The first times she didn’t mind because the line was short, but this particular time, “the whole customs process lasted over 2 hours. This infuriated me,” she said. “Although I don’t know the exact reason why the people on the “X” line got picked, just by analyzing the people there it was very obvious that the people on my line were very diverse.”

Flores went on to express how underpowered and undervalued this situation at the airport made her feel.

“Despite being an American citizen who has never committed any type of crime, why was I picked? I was very disappointed. That is prejudice. That is racist,” Flores said.

Debbi Damico, Director of International Student and Scholar Services, recognizes the struggles of being an international student in the United States, particularly at Manhattan College.

“Lately, many [students] have stopped by to ask questions about the travel bans and how they may affect their status in the future. I have tried to offer support and helpful suggestions to them; and at the same time, tried to allay their fears,” Damico said.

In their mission to include different beliefs and cultures as a Lasallian institution, Manhattan College provides help and support to those international students that have felt targeted and/or excluded from the rest of US citizens.

“My office is currently located in the Multicultural Center in the Student Commons.  The center offers a safe place for persons of all nationalities, religions, gender identities, everyone is welcome here,” Damico said. “I always encourage them to stop by and speak to me if they have any questions or concerns given the current climate as it relates to immigration and other matters relating to their status as F-1 and J-1 non-immigrant students/scholars/researchers.”

Maintaining an open and honest relationship with international students on campus is crucial for their experience in the US and the vision they take home from this country.

“I want them to feel that they can come to me with any issues, problems, questions, or concerns and be assured of my support, care, understanding, and confidentiality,” Damico said.

Flores agrees with supporting all communities and believes that excluding a certain population is dangerous.

“Generalizing and grouping people in categories, labeling them, is very dangerous. We need to get rid of those ideas all together,” Flores said. “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, not every Latino is an illegal immigrant. Their ethnicity and culture enriches their persona, however, it shouldn’t be the basis with which we try to predict their actions.”