• September 4, 2015

Far From Border, U.S. Detains Foreign Students

Far From Canada, Aggressive U.S. Border Patrols Snag Foreign Students 1

Will Yurman for The Chronicle

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers check passengers' citizenship on a bus in Rochester, N.Y., more than 75 miles from Canada. Some college officials whose students have been stopped believe the customs agency has more resources than it knows what to do with.

Six miles north of the University of Maine's flagship campus, on the only real highway in these parts, students and professors traveling south might encounter a surprise: a roadblock manned by armed Border Patrol agents, backed by drug-sniffing dogs, state policemen, and county sheriff's deputies.

Although the Canadian border is nearly 100 miles behind them—and Bangor, Maine's second-largest city, just 15 miles ahead—motorists are queried about their citizenship and immigration status. Those who raise an agent's suspicions are sent to an adjacent weigh station for further questioning and, sometimes, searches. Any foreign students or scholars unable to produce all of their original documentation are detained and could be arrested.

Thus far, nobody from the University of Maine has actually been arrested at this ephemeral checkpoint, which usually appears near the start of the academic year, when migrant laborers happen to be leaving eastern Maine's blueberry fields. One student had to wait at the roadblock until university authorities had satisfied agents that the individual was in the country legally, university officials say.

But elsewhere on the northern border, foreign students and scholars experience fear and uncertainty every time they leave campus, pick up a friend at the bus station, or board a domestic train or flight, even when they have all their documents with them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has greatly increased its manpower along the northern border, allowing for more-frequent use of roving patrols or surprise checkpoints on buses, trains, and highways far from the border itself. Students who failed to carry their original documents have been delayed and fined, apprehended even when they're just a few miles from campus.

"We used to tell students: When you get here, put your passport and I-90 form away so you don't lose it, because you don't need anything special when you travel around the country," says Thy Yang, director of international programs at Michigan Technological University, located a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. "Now we tell them to carry it at all times."

She adds, "Some students have gotten citations and a $75 fine for not carrying their documents, and they weren't happy about it. We told them it could have been worse."

For a broad category of students and scholars, even having one's documents in hand and in order offers no guarantee against being arrested and locked up in a detention facility hundreds of miles away. University officials and immigration attorneys interviewed by The Chronicle told of nearly two dozen incidents in which students or scholars were inappropriately detained at domestic stops by customs officers. Most were in the midst of the lengthy but not uncommon process of changing their immigration status and had followed all the rules. Others were apparently detained because the agents were unaware that while a student's visa might have expired, his or her permission to study in the country had not. All were in the country legally under the rules set forth by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which, like Customs and Border Protection, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Border Patrol sometimes interprets immigration regulations differently than Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services do," says Ellen A. Dussourd, director of international student and scholar services at the University at Buffalo. "This causes a lot of difficulty for international student and scholar offices when they need to advise their international students and scholars about travel in the U.S."

Frank A. Novak, an immigration lawyer at Harter Secrest & Emery, a law firm in Rochester, N.Y., says students and scholars typically run afoul of the customs agency when changing status from a nonimmigrant student or work visa (such as F-1, H1B, or O-1) to an immigrant one, perhaps because they have married a U.S. national or been offered a permanent job. They apply before their visa expires and receive permission to work, live, and travel until their application is processed, which may take years. "Inherent in the policy is that your old [nonimmigrant] status will expire," he says, but customs officers sees this as grounds to arrest them.

"These people are following all the rules, but the government-enforcement authorities are detaining them and really wreaking havoc on their lives and scaring the heck out of them," says Mr. Novak, whose clients have included foreign scholars so treated. "It seems an insane policy to be arresting scientists, artists, professors, and students who have done everything properly and do a great job for our country."

'Temporary Permanent'

Customs and Border Protection officials did not make themselves available for an interview, despite repeated requests. A written statement ignored questions on the topic, instead providing general commentary on the purpose of internal checkpoints. "CBP Border Patrol agents conduct these types of operations periodically in key locations that serve as conduits for human and narcotics smuggling," the statement said. "These operations serve as a vital component to our overall border security efforts and help sustain security efforts implemented in recent years."

Customs and Border Protection also maintains that it can set up roadblocks—it prefers the term "temporary permanent checkpoints" for legal reasons—and question people on trains and buses or at transportation stations anywhere within 100 air miles of a U.S. border or seacoast. This broadly defined border zone encompasses most of the nation's major cities and the entirety of several states, including Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Delaware, New Jersey, and five of the six New England states. The American Civil Liberties Union—concerned about the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures—has called it the "Constitution-Free Zone."

Officials of several universities located within 100 miles of the Canadian frontier told The Chronicle that their foreign students and faculty have experienced few serious problems as a result of the checkpoints, though they now tell students to carry their original documents with them at all times. The institutions include the University of Maine at Orono, University of Vermont, Wayne State University, Michigan Tech, and Western Washington University.

"You'll always have a quirk here and there or an error now and then, but for the most part, things are working pretty well at the border, and we don't have any troubles away from the border at all," says Linda Seatts, director of Wayne State's Office of International Students and Scholars. "We're just elated about that."

In upstate New York, it's a different story. For reasons that remain unclear, Customs and Border Protection has had an aggressive presence away from the immediate border, especially around the northern city of Potsdam or in central New York cities like Rochester and Syracuse, which are relatively far from the nearest border crossings. Area residents say Border Patrol officers maintain a near-constant presence at Rochester's bus station and frequently question passengers at the airport. They regularly board domestic Amtrak trains passing through the area en route from Chicago to New York, where they shine flashlights in sleeping passengers' faces.

"We've had hundreds of students questioned and stopped and inconvenienced, and perhaps a dozen students, scholars, or family members who've been detained or jailed," says Cary M. Jensen, director of the International Services Office at the University of Rochester. "For international visitors who see people boarding trains, pulling people off, asking for documents, it feels a lot like East Germany did when I visited in 1980."

Foreign students and scholars are often reticent to speak with reporters, but college officials and immigration attorneys in the region described several hair-raising examples of what they regard as inappropriate and worrisome detentions of members of their community in the past four years. These include:

  • A Pakistani undergraduate at the University of Rochester was pulled off a Trailways bus to Albany in 2007, who thought carrying his student photo ID was sufficient for a short domestic trip. Mr. Jensen says the student was held for two weeks at a detention facility before he and his family could appear before a judge and prove they were in the country legally, with an asylum application pending.
  • A Chinese student at the State University of New York at Potsdam's Crane School of Music was seized on a domestic Adirondack Trailways bus for lack of original immigration documents. He was released after a few hours, but a few days later agents came to campus, arrested him, and locked him up for three weeks at a detention facility several hours away, where inmates nicknamed him Smart Boy. Although the student's change-of-status paperwork was in order—and was approved while he was in detention—he missed the start of classes and had to leave the institution. "He was very scared, and by the end of it, his whole demeanor had changed," says Potsdam's international-programs coordinator, Bethany A. Parker-Goeke. "He ended up leaving the country. His parents wouldn't let him go back to the U.S."
  • A University of Rochester doctoral student bound for a conference at Cornell University was taken from a bus and detained for hours at a police station even though he had all his documentation and was in legal status. Mr. Jensen says the Border Patrol agent didn't understand the student's paperwork, although it was typical for someone who had changed from a two-year master's degree to a seven-year doctoral program. "We helped clear it up, but he missed the conference," Mr. Jensen recalls.
  • A scholar at an undisclosed institution in Rochester was arrested at the airport while on his way to visit his wife, a student at an institution out of state. Both had H1B visas, had applied for permanent residence status, and had permission from Citizenship and Immigration Services to live, work, and travel while their applications were adjudicated, according to their attorney, Mr. Novak. But Customs and Border Protection officers "treated him like a criminal and threw him in the clink. The wife didn't dare come to pay the bond to get him out because they would throw her in jail, too."
  • A Potsdam student was briefly detained last summer while doing turtle research with her professor in a local swamp. "Border Patrol was there asking for documents," Ms. Parker-Goeke says. "She's in a swamp—she doesn't have her documents." The professor was able to persuade the agents to call the university to clear up the student's status.

"I have concerns for people who are legally here and making a great contribution but could get stuck in the system," says Brendan P. O'Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell University. Recently a foreign visiting-faculty member at the university missed a conference in Chicago because customs agents didn't understand his change-of-status papers. "What's happening is more than just a minor inconvenience."

Too Many Resources?

It's unclear why the situation in upstate New York is more serious than in other parts of the country, including areas with high border traffic volumes, like Detroit and northeastern Washington State. Some university officials and immigration lawyers suspect that Customs and Border Protection's Rochester station has been given more resources than it knows what to do with, reportedly expanding from seven to 27 agents since May 2008. There are no ports of entry in its jurisdiction, which lacks a land boundary with Canada.

"Basically they have nothing to do, so they've come up with a really easy way to arrest a lot of people through internal enforcement," says Nancy Morawetz, of the New York University School of Law, who has represented individuals caught up in the sweeps and procured arrest information from Customs and Border Protection via the Freedom of Information Act. The records have shown that less than 1 percent of those arrested on buses and trains in the Rochester area had entered the country within the past three days, and that none of them could be shown to have entered from Canada, she says. "I think that data is incredibly powerful," Ms. Morawetz says, "because it shows that all this aggravation and hardship has essentially nothing to do with the Border Patrol mission" of securing the border.

"In a country where 5 percent of the population lacks status, it's not hard to pick up bodies by going into any crowded station and asking people where they were born," she says. "This isn't about securing our borders. It's about making life as uncomfortable as possible for those out of status and not caring how it makes foreign students or professionals feel."

Customs and Border Protection headquarters did not make anyone available to discuss the programmatic purpose of the sweeps and checkpoints, and its written statement said only that it "performed in direct support of immediate border-enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States." An official who could speak for the situation in upstate New York did not keep a scheduled telephone interview.

The operations officer at the Swanton, Vt., sector office, Mark Henry, said it didn't set up highway checkpoints to use excessive manpower. "We set them up based on intelligence," he said. "Naturally our first concern is with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, but we're an all-threats agency, so it can be related to narcotics trafficking and all kinds of law enforcement."

Some near-border institutions refused to discuss the effects of highway stops and roving patrols on their foreign students. The Swanton office of Customs and Border Protection occasionally sets up roadblocks on Interstate 91 in White River Junction, Vt., a few miles from Dartmouth College's campus, but a spokesperson for the college, Sarah A. Memmi, said it would not "contribute to your story." Similarly, officials at the international office of the University of North Dakota said the institution did not wish to comment on the situation in its region.

"Ever since 9/11, nobody wants to be painted as being indifferent to the terrorist threat, so schools advise people to avoid saying anything that might paint the institution as undermining counterterrorism enforcement," said Victor Johnson, senior public-policy adviser at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "That's part of the reason we don't hear that much about it."

Fortunately, institutions report that foreign enrollments haven't been affected, with several seeing substantial increases in recent years. The Rochester Institute of Technology, for instance, has seen 50-percent growth in its foreign enrollment since 2005, according to its director of international student services, Jeffrey W. Cox. "We've been active in preparing them for whatever they might encounter," he said. Its advice: "When you leave the suburb of Henrietta," where RIT is located, "always have your documents with you."


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1. wilson44691 - January 10, 2011 at 05:47 am

Cary M. Jensen: "It feels a lot like East Germany did when I visited in 1980."

Really, Mr. Jensen? East Germany? Sounds like you did not spend enough time there to really understand human rights abuse and political darkness. East Germany?

2. ramezmaluf - January 10, 2011 at 05:59 am

Maybe not as bad as East Germany, but a police state nevertheless. It is really sad that this is what the US has become. When I lived there in the 60s thru 80s it was indeed the Land of the Free. No more. It is very sad.

3. kamoshika - January 10, 2011 at 07:57 am

A fairly sloppy piece

Responsible schools go out of their way to warn students about carrying proper documentation at all times. Most do. For every turtle researcher hounded through the swamps by the Border Patrol for not carrying her documents (and try that with the Fish and Game people...), there are thousands of foreign students who are amazed at how freely they can move about - many of whom can imagine what would happen to them at an internal checkpoint in their own countries given similar document problems. (The mention of East Germany is laughable.)

There is no mention of the real losers
making life as uncomfortable as possible for those out of status

4. rezonabil - January 10, 2011 at 08:01 am

This is hilarious. So we have a border with Mexico which is completely broken and the police officers are losing their time and federal money with a highly safe border. I am wondering if they simply did not receive orders to keep out anyone who's literate, legal and is actually able of at least average cognitive processing and so to bring some real contribution to this country... They do the same thing with Europeans who come over the ocean. So the new rule is, if educated and legal, bad news, the rest free to enter. The said story is that we may end asking asylum in these countries we reject very soon. Please vote something different in 2012. By now is clear who's who.

5. snapcase - January 10, 2011 at 08:11 am

Not really a suprise as American citizens keep beliving that nothing is wrong with their country (see comment #2). Americans are also increasingly invested in proto-fascist rhetoric, especially the kind they see on Fox News. I have a professor from the former Soviet Union and she once mentioned that Fox News reminded her of old Soviet propaganda, so the comparison to East Germany is not really that strange.

6. rezonabil - January 10, 2011 at 08:30 am

I really do not understand comment six. As former international student in the US, I never had any problem during Bush time. Now, you have Obama since two years so you imply that Fox News is leading in fact this country and makes the rules at the border? Sounds completely insane. As for your professor, guess what, not all the people who lived in Communism and came in the US are not communists although the USCIS asks that question under federal penalty. Further, I watch also Fox News, but I did not hear anything "Nazi", or "Fasci" but I heard a lot against Communism which makes a lot of sense since I lived it. by the way Nazi comes from National Socialism, and Fascism from Mussolini who was also socialist. Change your professors!

7. librarydirector - January 10, 2011 at 08:32 am

I once worked at one of the SUNY campuses less than two hours' drive from the nearest land border with Canada. It was in a relatively small town, and the visible Border Patrol enforcers far outnumbered the local, county, and campus patrol cars. It was pretty scary. And very, very sad to think that this is what we've become.

8. tdr75 - January 10, 2011 at 08:37 am

@kamoshika - Did you not catch the (several) parts about students carrying legal, accurate documentation and getting detained anyway? I find that terribly disconcerting, to be honest.

There is zero reason that Rochester needs 27 border patrol agents. As noted, there is no contiguous foreign border in the area and the Great Lakes would be the territory of the Coast Guard i would assume. On a recent trip through their airport around thanksgiving, there were local and state police and Border patrol in addition to the normal DHS security staff. It was complete and utter overkill for an airport of that size and traffic. There must have been 7 or 8 border patrol agents alone. A serious waste of taxpayer money.

And comparisons to the Eastern Bloc may be premature, but there are certainly elements in current policies that reflect attitudes of that time. Rhetoric alone is histrionic most of the time...who would dare criticize the border patrol, the military, our politicians? You must be anti-American to have such sentiments. Really?

But the MOST galling part of this piece is the fact that Customs and Border patrol administrators didn't even bother to address the issues raised in the article. To me, that is the biggest red flag. After all, I pay their salaries along with anyone else that works and pays taxes in the United States. They are responsible ultimately to the people and for a government bureaucracy to clearly show such disdain for a legitimate question is troubling indeed.

9. rezonabil - January 10, 2011 at 08:43 am

And what exactly did you became? You have the impression that in EU police does not ask papers? The only scared individuals are those who have something to hide or are illegal. You think that Mexicans do not ask papers? Go there. I visited the country and was asked to show papers in the street and yet not scary thing happened. In fact the US becomes the only country where individuals think that border patrol is controlled by a TV channel and committing something illegal is in fact moral excuses. You lost entirely your mind! I better move back to EU before being raped and apologize I did not offer even more.

10. rezonabil - January 10, 2011 at 08:57 am

The only true scary thing is this delirium in which TV Channels are accused of things that would put in jail the accusers for calumny in any decent country, Communism becomes better even when Castro admits is not working, nobody can ask papers and a minority is instigate to violence against those who generated enough wealth to attract them here. It is absolutely insane. I cannot remember any country where saying that Stalin was a murder is not true which by the way Russia officially admitted he was an murder. I do not recall any country in the civilized world to adulate Che Guevara which is considered a sadistic bastard. in fact, what am I doing in America? America I dreamt of, is dead. Long live Third World Socialist Uopia! the whole international press mentioned the Arizon killer was reading Marx and finally does not appear to have any ideological reason but left wing calls to kill Fox News because their not in line with the communist agenda. I am sorry for people have the moral and legal right to chose something else than Communism!

11. fauhousing - January 10, 2011 at 09:39 am

I have no concern about people being stopped and questioned when they do not properly prepare with the right documents. Yes, most schools (including mine) go out of their way to inform and prepare their foreign nationals for travel. I do have a concern for students and scholar who have all they need but are detained because the Customs and Border Patrol officers do not understand the requirements and cause delays for students who are prepared with everything and more.

12. 11272784 - January 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

The Fed Gummint has a magnificent talent for putting emphasis where it's not needed, acting heavy-handed, and making enemies when they could make friends.

we're all terrorists....except for the real terrorists, because we don't want to stereotype them. That would be wrong.

13. softshellcrab - January 10, 2011 at 10:51 am

I support vigorous enforcement of immigration laws, and a super-tough approach, and strong punishment, for illegal immigrants. I am torn on this story, because it may not be the "best" use of scarce enforcement dollars to do this checkpoint, but on the other hand, do we just abrogate monitoring the Candadian border?

14. hflores123 - January 10, 2011 at 10:57 am

I am a US Latino. My family came to the Southwestern United States early in the 18th Century before the US was a country. I always wondered why my mother would insure that she had everyone's birth certificates whether we travelled throughout South Texas. We were stopped many times and asked for identification and the birth certificates worked every time. Friends wonder why I travel within the United States with my passport and I think this article answers that question. I feel that we have quickly moved in the direction of the establishment of a police state and we will all soon have to carry national identification that may be requested by any police agency regardless of where you may be.

I strongly feel that the current anti-immigrant climate and movement to a more "secure" society will lead eventually to a paranoid society that will cause dramatic changes in American political and social cultures.

Normally I would not send this sort of comment to the Chronicle but this entire national climate has really bothered me. This is not the USA that I was raised in nor was fought for by all five uncles, aunts, father, brother and cousins in World War II or in Vietnam.

Henry Flores, PhD
Dean, Graduate School
St. Mary's University
San Antonio, TX

15. texas2step - January 10, 2011 at 11:30 am

Thank you Dr. Flores for your wise comment.

16. mbsss - January 10, 2011 at 11:50 am

According to my New York colleagues, the smuggling of goods over the US-Canadian border is probably a lot more prevalent than the existence of university students without proper documentation.

17. jc100 - January 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

@hflores123: ID has been required for many years - usually a valid drivers license. I challenge anyone who is doubting the severity of US border problems to talk a 10 mile walk along the US (Texas, Arizona) - Mexican border. But wear body armor! There is quite literally a war going on that is being ignored by our government and the press.

18. nomdeplume64 - January 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Firstly, checking for IDs away from the border may be legal, and may even be justified, but it certainly is intrusive. Maybe the concerns would be more evident if we changed the location. Instead of an intercity bus station in Rochester, let's suppose agents set up a check point at a subway stop in the business district of New York city (or Boston, or Philidelphia, etc - all places within 100 miles of the coast). Those agents demand that everyone passing through the station prove they were legally in the USA, or face arrest. How well do you think that action would be received? Many US citizens wouldn't be able to prove their status: if you're taking the subway, you may not be carrying - or even have - a driver's license, let alone a passport.

Second is the issue of detention. If government agents are demanding ID from domestic travelers, that seems objectionable in principle, but pragmatically may not be a big deal. But it becomes much more substantial for the people whose documents are not convincing enough to the agent involved. If you're pulled off a bus or train and questioned for a few hours - well, you've just missed your class, or your conference, or simply your ride home. Do we just shrug our shoulders and say "too bad, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time"?

Or worse, you're thrown in jail for a few days or weeks because a particular agent didn't understand your paperwork, or because the department that inspects the paperwork does things differently than the department that issues it. Isn't that what we call arbitrary arrest by the state? Isn't that supposed to be protected against by the constitution and/or the bill of rights?

19. bahia7740 - January 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm

This story very much resonates with us - my spouse, who is in the process of changing his visa status from H1b to permanent residency, just had a horrendous day trying to renew his driver's license because the local authority did not understand the change of status processes that this article explained and simply denied him a new license (but interestingly did not contact Homeland Security to repoet him - if they believed that he was in the U.S. illegally, they should have).

It is almost ironic that his H1B was issued by the federal government on the ground that there was no U.S. candidate who was suited for the job he took, yet the state can effectively deny his means to fulfill his job (we have essentially no public transportation where we live).

Same applies for these students and scholars who were detained even though they were legally pursuing their academic goals. I cannot imagine how destructive these sudden detentions could have been to their academic progress and duties. Their advisors and colleagues must have sacrificed their own primary responsibilities as they scrambled to resolve the situation. It seems very counterproductive to say the least.

What happened to SEVIS and E-verify instituted shortly after 9/11? They were supposed to be accessible to all law enforcement officials all over the country to instantly be able to check one's immigration status. Visa fees were almost doubled to support these databases, and I am pretty sure that federal tax also supported them. Many states also increased drivers lisence fees to comply with the new federal mandate, and in principle, a foreigner's immigration info should all be connected to his/her state issued drivers license or non-drivers ID, just like any merchant can scan your credit card to see if you still have available credit for the purchase.

I wonder why CIS and Border Patrol cannot openly share the biometric info collected at ports of entry instead of mandating everyone to carry the bulky passport and pages of letter-sized immigration documents. This would have prevented the unnecessary bullying of the swamp researcher and her advisor!

I used to see many portable fingerprint scanners around airport gates for outbound international flights (they only scanned foreigners as they were leaving the U.S.) when they started the US-VISIT program, but I have not seen them lately (they stopped scanning departing foreigners). If they are not being used, just give them to Border Patrol. Or at least issue fraud-resistant photo ID cards for legal aliens like most other civilized countries do.

20. whm3113 - January 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm

The statement in the article that Rochester has no international point of entry is incorrect. They have an international airport. The other point is that they, at one point, had a ferry that went between Rochester and Toranto. It is possible the Rochester Border Patrol staffing was increased during the period the ferry was in operation.

21. ellenhunt - January 10, 2011 at 01:01 pm

There are two sources for the funding of border patrol agents.
A. Concern over terrorism, which has some legitimacy. There have been attackers from Canada. I know of one Al Qaeda who impersonated a grad student for a couple of years at a major university. He was participating in the microbiology program and fled in is 2nd year when he was outed as never having registered.

B. The illegal immigrant furor that is raising demagogues into high office and generating murder in the street. That "illegal immigrant" garbage is code for "non-white". It is bigotry.

22. theart - January 10, 2011 at 01:32 pm

Terrorism and narcotics? I used to hit these "temporary permanent checkpoints" regularly in grad school. The only thing I was ever asked was my citizenship was never asked to produce documentation to prove it. That must be because young white men in Upstate NY have never been associated with terrorism or drug trafficking...

23. janesdaughter - January 10, 2011 at 01:43 pm

As an undergrad in the early 1970s, long before the most recent round of xenophobia reared its head, I would often take Amtrak between Albany and Rochester. On one occasion, somewhere between Syracuse and Rochester, immigration agents came through the cars and seemed to stop only by the seats of those in my age group (early 20s). I was asked where I was born and when I answered "Rochester," the next question (more of a demand) was to name all of the suburbs around the city. I was so surprised I did not answer immediately, prompting my interrogater to raise his voice and insist on a reply RIGHT NOW. Slowly I started to say the names, and he moved on to the next person before I had come up with more than 3 or 4 towns. I truly had the impression he was disappointed I could provide the names. It was the only time such a thing ever happened and I never learned what they were looking for. I don't recall being asked for documentation, but at the time, if memory serves, NY did not require photos on its drivers license, and that's all I would have carried with me then. I would never have been able to prove my license (with a very common Anglo-Saxon surname) was really mine. I assumed they had been tipped off that an illegal person maybe was on board but I also felt the level of intimidation was way more than necessary. Does make me wonder now if Rochester's current reputation for "hard core" tactics is rooted in an organizational culture of longer standing.

24. mrsdillie - January 10, 2011 at 01:51 pm

Dr. Flores might not be as perky about immigration if foreign academics hung around his college, telling administrators that they could do his job for $20K less.
How hard is it to carry your papers? If you're in college, you should be able to manage this.

25. toolazytoo - January 10, 2011 at 01:52 pm

The comparison between these road blocks and I.D. controls in European countries is incorrect (e.g. #9). In the US there is no due process when it comes to immigration status. So even a legal resident can be locked up without seeing a judge at one of these roadblocks if the officers make a mistake. And, as this article demonstrates, these mistakes happen.

I am a Green Card holder myself and live close to Canadian border. The legal limbo means that one always feels like a suspect at these roadblocks (which are frequent), at the mercy of the officer. It is a quite shameful setup for a free country.

26. sswenson - January 10, 2011 at 01:52 pm

Terrorism is succeding in its mission. We are becoming more afraid and less tolerant, so in our paranoid ideation we overreact. Instead of becoming a more humane and intelligent society, we proudly reward folks who carry out silly searches but, in the process, we lose our reputation for greatness and tolerance. We forget that we are a nation of immigrants who were welcomed by the dream of America. Meanwhile, the ones who carry out their orders appear to actually believe they are making this country more secure.

27. henr1055 - January 10, 2011 at 03:32 pm

I would say travel documents would be enough. Citizenship? does anyone know anyone who has a citizenship card, carried a birth certificate or a passport for domestic travel.


28. ewkristensen - January 10, 2011 at 03:44 pm

It is a shameful situation; I first encountered one of these roadblocks in the 90s on I-5 north of San Diego. I've experienced them several times on I-87 southbound in the Adirondacks. It really does feel like a police state, not to mention the enormous traffic jams they cause. The combination makes one's blood boil.

I guess we are at the point where everyone needs to carry a national ID card. What will the Tea Partiers think of that?

29. rightwingprofessor - January 10, 2011 at 03:48 pm

Why does this story not mention that all one has to do is say "I am an American citizen and I don't wish to speak with you" and the border patrol agent must go away. This is why the comparison to East Germany is ridiculous, because citizens are not required to carry any papers. The Border agents should be properly trained to recognize legitimate paperwork to prevent some of these horror stories. Foreigners should carry the required paperwork with them and not complain about it if failing to do so causes them grief.

30. walkerst - January 10, 2011 at 03:55 pm

A few years ago, I was working on a TN visa for Harvard University. I was once detained at Pearson airport in Toronto by a border official who insisted that I was lying about my position and thus some kind of risk to the US. He insisted that "Manager of Collections" was not a librarian position, and so I was trying to pull a fast one and shouldn't be let into the US - I was a debt collector! (I don't know where he got that idea). I had my passport, my work visa, a letter from my employer, my birth certificate, my actual degrees, my job description, my signed work contract, the original job ad, my Canadian and US driver's licenses, and every other conceivable piece of documentation or ID he could have required. None of it mattered. I had to wait until someone more reasonable came on duty, and I missed my flight - and had to pay to get another. To this day, I am uncomfortable traversing the border, and avoid it as much as possible. My husband & I are both green card holders now, with Canadian passports (and yes, by the way, we're both white). We don't carry them daily. I hardly want to carry something like my passport all over NYC, where I live now, all day; I've had my identity stolen once already, and don't care to repeat the experience. To mrsdillie, it's not hard to carry your papers. It's hard to replace them if they're lost or stolen, and it's hard to convince the issuers that you're who you say you are if all your ID has been taken. Why should anyone have to actually carry a passport, as opposed to just producing it if required? That's ridiculous. US citizens don't carry passports around with them (and many don't have one). If a US citizen and I were both stopped on the street, how would you the citizen prove he was native born? Or is everyone supposed to carry 2 forms of gov't issued photo ID and their full long-form birth certificates, while we're at it?

31. dsohere - January 10, 2011 at 06:14 pm

A big issue here is that CBP officers are not properly trained on how to evaluate immigration documents to ascertain whether or not the individual is in good immigration status. Either that or they are choosing to detain people in order to keep their numbers up and justify their funding. But I have a feeling that they don't really understand how to evaluate their documents or understand the laws on changing status.

So maybe they should spend some of their funding on more training, and specifically get trained to be alert for students, scholars and those otherwise here legally. I think that schools should advocate strongly for this. I find most disturbing the case cited of the Chinese student who was so traumatized by his ordeal that he abandoned his studies and went home. This is not the way we should be treating these visitors to the US, who bring a lot of money into our economy as well as contribute in so many ways to our schools.

32. niemandsrose - January 10, 2011 at 06:51 pm

Perhaps the reason upstate New York seems so ridiculously overpatrolled is that New York State gets a larger proportional share of Homeland Security funding. Always has, probably always will. All its legislators have to do at budget time is point to Ground Zero.

I agree, however, that these tactics are not appropriate to the social terrain (density, mobility, etc.) of upstate New York, nor to the stated aims of the Department of Homeland Security.

33. rezonabil - January 10, 2011 at 06:57 pm

I am reading these comments with horror: your lies, lobby for illegal immigration from Latin America is beyond my understanding. It is however your own country and you are free to destroy it. But I will make sure that when you will realize that and begin to ask political asylum in Europe and Canada we will put a simple condition :sign you are not a Communist! Shame on you Americans. Shame for you outrageous criminal Stalinian criminal campaign against the law of your own country!

34. cdnprof - January 10, 2011 at 08:38 pm

I am a Canadian working as a professor at a medium sized university located in the northeast under a H1B visa. Politically I am considered center right.

I have had numerous horror crossings at the US-Canada border and it often takes me one hour to get through immigration when coming to the U.S. from abroad (I am a white french canadian no criminal records and hold security clearances). I have always complied with everything yet it is always a long process that makes you feel not only unwelcome but as if you are on trial. It is a huge waste of taxpayer money to control me for that long every time completely useless.

As for the documentation issue I don't think people realize how ridiculous it would be for everyone to walk around carrying a big envelope with letters passport and other documents at all time. It is not just inconvenient but if it is stolen or lost, it is a world of problems. In this day and age to ask for people's document is ridiculous. Anyone can print or forge documents easily, and the only sure mean is to do an electronic verifications. Now it is true that we have the choice to leave if we are so bothered. But we pay taxes as well (and many of us are in top earning brackets), my tax dollars are contributing to my harassment!

Bottom line is there has to be a better way to control for status, carrying papers at all time is not practical. Like another poster I live in NYC and when I walk my dog in the evening there is no way I will carry a big brown envelope with papers and passport. A driving license should suffice, after all they did check my status prior to issuing it.

Now I have been trying for the past 2 years to adjust my status to a green card. Despite letters from senators in two different states, where I largely contribute to advice the government pro-bono on policies, my green card gets rejected for no good reasons. When I heard of the dream act last month, I though perhaps I should quit my job as a professor, come in illegally and attend as an illegal student. So that not only I would continue to be in academia but I would not have to pay taxes nor immigration fees and would have an eventual path to citizenship

Lastly it is time to have an easier way to give permanent status to legal temporary residents who pay taxes and contribute largely to society. The system is really broken start with the legals and finish with the illegals. Yes I am considering giving up and going elsewhere despite the fact I love living here, it is just too much trouble and stress.

35. mywaves2009 - January 10, 2011 at 08:45 pm

rezonabil - your frustration and anger toward your fellow Americans for speaking the truth is preposterous. You while believe in the American system of justice and freedom of speech do belive when everyone is speaking the truth.

You have already isolated yourself from the majority and your outrageous comments support this assumption and very soon you will pull the gun on the left wing politicians like the nut-case in Arizona who killed 6 and injured 18 society.

rezonabil - You remind me of the king the who was nacked but no one dared to mention it because he/she would lose head, untill an innocent boy told him "King you are nacked" becuse that was the nacked truth...

36. amberdru - January 10, 2011 at 09:34 pm

"We used to tell students: When you get here, put your passport and I-90 form away so you don't lose it, because you don't need anything special when you travel around the country," says Thy Yang, director of international programs at Michigan Technological University, located a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. "Now we tell them to carry it at all times."

She adds, "Some students have gotten citations and a $75 fine for not carrying their documents, and they weren't happy about it. We told them it could have been worse."

So the school is giving their international students bad information. It's been the law for decades that they are suppose to have their "papers" with them- even if they

37. syy89 - January 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm

"A University of Rochester doctoral student bound for a conference at Cornell University was taken from a bus and detained for hours at a police station even though he had all his documentation and was in legal status. Mr. Jensen says the Border Patrol agent didn't understand the student's paperwork, although it was typical for someone who had changed from a two-year master's degree to a seven-year doctoral program."

Unfortunately, the officers in the uniform may not have the required education and training to perform their duties appropriately.

38. jbfjbf - January 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I am glad to know that at least one Border Patrol Office is doing its job. An American traveling abroad must keep their papers on their person at all times. Why should a foreigner in America expect to be expemt from standard border crossing procedures? Do not complain to me that you are inconvienced. I am inconveinced every time I get on a plane, bus, etc. and I am a natural born citizen.

39. sveronneau - January 11, 2011 at 02:42 am

To: jbfjbf,

Traveling in a country is one thing. Living in one (as a foreigner) paying taxes and having your routine is another one. How would you feel about having to carry a bunch of papers ( not handy size) with you every time you stepped outside your house to the convenience store or other places? Personally I would not expect even tourist to carry papers outside their hotels when they are in Canada. What purpose does it serve?

40. khparker - January 11, 2011 at 03:08 am

"... areas with high border traffic volumes, like Detroit and northeastern Washington State."

Don't you mean northwestern Washington State? That's where the primary corridor between Vancouver and the Puget Sound area lies; northeastern Washington is pretty much the far side of nowheresville.

41. stapas - January 11, 2011 at 08:09 am

Why doesn't the US simplify the paperwork? I was a (western European) visiting scholar in the US, and the amount of paperwork involved to get the visa is ridiculous, including duplicate information, outdated forms, and just plainly ridiculous questions on some forms. At the embassy, you feel as if you are in a 3rd world country, because of the lines, and because of hour long waiting times, even when you have made an appointment. Nobody dares to complain, because it may endanger your visa application, or your name might be registered (I actually have a lot of experience assisting public sector organisations to improve efficiency and service orientation, and planned to offer some suggestions to the US ambassador in my country, but refrained out of fear of having my name registered in customs/border databases).

One would also think that having a passport with a valid visum is sufficient to cross a border: it isn't. As someone here mentioned, you do indeed have to carry a stack of paper, each of which is very difficult to replace should it be lost or stolen. Also, I have had to pay a fee for Sevis, even at a time when it wasn't yet functioning.

42. hwyvill - January 11, 2011 at 08:10 am

I find it somewhat ironic that in order to send this article to my son, who lives abroad with his family of US citizens, some of whom look Chinese, I first had to register with the Chronicle, providing a lot of of personal information. What does my birth year have to do with my wanting to send information to someone else who may have need of it?

43. keis8427 - January 11, 2011 at 02:45 pm

I love to read these comments because it's interesting to see all the different perspectives and experiences.

Just a reminder that this country has never been free - as in free of charge...it was built upon the spilt blood of others. Our system cannot cater to everyone's personal whims. Deal with the system and hush...

44. bcbailey64 - January 11, 2011 at 03:57 pm

keis8427, you said, "Deal with the system and hush" Isn't that how the Nazis took over Germany and threatened the rest of the free world? Just saying...

45. tnegras - January 11, 2011 at 05:04 pm

To all it may concern,

For those of you not born here, here is a little history. The United States wished to distinguish itself from the European countries by changing the type of government which was used. It was done to protect the rights of citizens against government control. Part of that is ensuring citizens do not have to put up with unlawful searches. Unlike Europe, where personal freedoms are abridged in order to keep the peace. You see, European history is littered with viral behavior and insidiousness. For centuries, they killed each other over land, resources, and religion. The religious hatred and governmental tyranny went far into the twentieth century where it finally got subdued after millions of citizens were killed all over the world by their own governments. This is the very REASON fox news (lower case to show great unhappiness with the organization) is able to use government action to scare the poor white people that government is taking their rights. In this case, that is exactly what is happening. But you won't here fox news say anything. Why? Because it's not white people! Trust me, if it were Americans being thrown in prison in other countries where they lawfully reside, the fox news pundits would be all over it. But where I fault them I must also fault most other news organizations. It is astounding this is the only article that mentions this attitude. I am completely embarrased that other news communities haven't addressed this issue. I urge everyone here to write Congress or the POTUS. It is outrageous and anyone who believes it isn't, well when you are detained for not proving your status one day, I hope you remember this post. Because it will just be a memory to be able to post such comments if everyone thinks that way. Anyways, I really like this site and those who post here. Much better comments than the mainstream media outlets.

46. rezonabil - January 12, 2011 at 07:52 am

To comment nr 35: First, I appreciate you admit you are a socialist/communist but I am not sure if all the others are left wingers so please do not preach me in the Communist Party style. Second, I know the Chronicle is left wing, but can it make it official so we know that anyone who's not left wing should not post comments? Third, the killer from Arizona was reading Marx, Freud, Plato, is an atheist and hates Bush which is the "Portrait" of the typical radical left wing. I however do not see the connection with that case in here, which shows how delusional you are. In addition he targeted a democrat politician who demands the closing of the border even from Bush time, is against illegal immigration, and federal expenses which makes this politician quite a right wing (a name for the politicians fallowing the law in their own country). Fifth, why you consider that I am right wing simply because I disagree with illegal immigration being myself a legal immigrant in the US? Finally, you seem to forget the freedom of speech which applies to legal immigrants too. Your views have nothing to do with democracy in any country.
To comment 34: I visited Quebec and I was shocked how racists French Quebecois are. So if you like Quebec so much, why not going back? There is plenty of room to walk the dog there while NYC is quite crowded, very dirty and often dysfunctional.
To comment 45: you need to reread the history of your own country. US was not free of rules, read Tocqueville and federal laws. See the USCIS for more info. You confuse the concept of “open democracy” which designates the fact that US was opened to legal immigrants that have a type of skills that are need in the US. The selection process for Europeans, who by the way built this country from down to top and at all possible levels, was very harsh and often extremely unfair: see the Irish and Italian history in the US.

47. zevgoldman - January 12, 2011 at 10:31 am

Dr. Flores:
The nation your family members fought for was not being invaded by a mass of illegal aliens from Mexico, Central and South America nor was it being flooded with drugs and gamg members from those locations. Furthermore, it hadn't been attacked by Muslim radicals who to this day seek its destruction.
It may be an inconvenience that you feel the necessity to carry the identification you do, but do so is nothing more than an inconvenience for you.
Your inconvenience is nothing when compared to the freedom you enjoy as an American citizen. The trade off is grossly in your favor.

48. hnwmgt - January 12, 2011 at 04:54 pm

While this has nothing to do with Canada per se, it gives Canada a shot at many better foreign students & professors who no longer want to come here to the USA.
And it seems a real violation of our cherished rights...

49. mhooper - January 12, 2011 at 09:32 pm

I think that some of the posters here don't quite understand what many non-citizens' "papers" look like. In my case - I'm a Canadian professor at a Northeast university - this isn't a single card or even a few sheets of paper. My full documentation is over and inch and half thick and is filled with small receipts and other oddly shaped and sized pieces of paper. I generally keep my documentation, needed to cross the border, in a legal file box, since most envelopes are simply too flimsy. I cannot possibly keep all this documentation on me at all times, as many posters have suggested, unless I wear a backpack. Clearly, that's not something I'm about to do when I'm lecturing, going for a jog or meeting with policymakers. The demand that all people keep their "papers" on them at all times is preposterous! I love the US and am pleased to be teaching here, but the visa hassles and the hostility at the border mean I often consider moving elsewhere. I know that many other faculty feel the same and that really worries me for American academia, since at the moment we attract the best and brightest from around the world and this only benefits the country, American students and the economy.

50. df1995 - January 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I did a graduate degree in the United Kingdom and was required to carry my non-resident identification book and register with the local police. I was a (paying) guest in that country sp I conformed to their laws however inconvenient it was to me. When I travel in Mexico my visa is often damanded by police and soldiers (sometimes this is the begining of a shakedown where my visa is held until a bribe is paid (la mordida)).

I think that people who are guests in our country should understand that with illegal immigaration and terrorism, government agencies are rightly enforcing the resposibility to carry proper identification. Those who don't wish to conform to the law should go to another country where they agree with how the law is administered.

I found this article to be poorly researched. So those detained claimed their papers were in order? Criminals ALWAYS claim they are innocent. The author might actually done some research to discover if their objections were valid, rather than just printing their claim.

Most pathetic are those responders who claim the US is turning into a police state. Here's a news flash for you: if you can claim you live in a police state and it's published for thousands to see, it's probably not a police state.

51. stapas - January 13, 2011 at 03:37 am

"Those who don't wish to conform to the law should go to another country where they agree with how the law is administered."
@df1995 - that's an easy comment. Please re-read some comments above:
1/ we are suggesting a trend that may also become dangerous for US citizens
2/ outsiders are often better placed to comments on things than are people within the system. That's also why companies hire external consultant. Part of my comment actually focused not so much on the fact that one has to have papers, but on the ridiculous amount of red tape involved. My visa fees in no way cover the full cost of this bureaucracy. So see it this way: the ridiculously complicated and inefficient visa documentation. In other words: YOUR TAX DOLLARS are being used to fund an inefficient system. So I rather thought you'd be grateful for suggestions to make the system cheaper and more efficient

52. strider - January 13, 2011 at 02:57 pm

I have travelled extensively in Western Europe (years, cumulatively, and over decades). I do not recall ever being stopped by police or other uniformed enforcers in the middle of nowhere, and asked for my travel documents, or residence permits, or citizenship papers. (And I may look ethnically foreign in some of those countries.) Registering at a hotel, yes, or when crossing a border, yes, but not otherwise. So, if the United States wishes to feel superior to ex-Communist countries, it may, but let us not pretend this is in any way commonplace in other democracies.

53. df1995 - January 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Dear strider:

Maybe you missed this in the news but 9/11 occurred in the US, not in Western Europe.

54. stapas - January 14, 2011 at 06:19 am

RAF, ETA, IRA, PFLP, GIA, October 22, Red Brigades, PKK, CCC, November 17 and of course also Lockerbie, 7/7, 3/11, München Olympics etc

55. marco1969 - January 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

ALL of the 911 terrorists were non-immigrant overstays. If you had Customs Agents at Logan airport all of the terrorists would have been arrested before they reached the plane.
Second, I believe some of you need to look up 8 USC 1304e. I will summarize it for you. Basically anyone who is NOT a United States Citizen is required by law to keep their immigration documents with them at ALL times. Penalties include up to 30 days of jail time and 100 dollar fine or both. How do I know this? Because my wife is a legal resident and it is the FIRST thing they told her when she received her green card.

56. marco1969 - January 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Quality reporting is showing BOTH sides of the story and letting the reader make up his/her own mind on a given topic. Where is the other side of illegal immigration?

I don't see anything in the article about all of the murderers, rapists, child molesters, narcotics smugglers, etc etc etc etc etc that are illegally present in the United States. I have read numerous articles about these wonderful people that have been caught by local and state law enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol Officers.

To imply that illegal immigration is not a major issue in our country is irresponsible.

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58. justin_x - January 17, 2011 at 09:47 pm

I'm confused. Are these actual opinions or are there just a lot of trolls that like to come post here? It seems to me that quite a few posts are downright inflamatory, poorly thought out and show that the poster did not read the original article.

59. 11126724 - January 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Customs & Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration will not be satisfied until they have created a police state in the U.S. These xenophobes seem determined to dissuade foreigners from coming to the US for any reason, and even hassle US citizens at every opportunity. I'm thinking of leaving the US when I retire just to avoid this atmosphere. It's as bad as it was in the 1950s. I can spend my retirement income in Canada or some more friendly place (even one with better health care!) I suspect many others are doing the same.

60. marco1969 - January 26, 2011 at 12:56 am

Hmm Xenophobe, do you ACTUALLY know what the word means? I married a foreigner, so I guess my previous comments (see above) don't apply to your ridiculous comments.

I am surprised none of the uninformed (hiding in my cubicle so I don't know what is truly going in the the REAL world) have a response to my comments about the 911 Hijackers. ALL of them were out of status illegal non-immigrant overstays (look it up). Do they teach anything about research in college?

Good reporting is showing BOTH sides of a given issue (no matter how painful it is) and letting the reader make up his or her own mind about a given topic.

This article was written by a neophyte and is so biased it is pathetic. Obviously comment 59 was written by the writer of this sham piece or a friend of his...right Justin X?...haha

How about writing a border story Justin. If you want the real story on immigration go down to the U.S./Mexico border. Americans and foreigners are being shot at on a regular basis. I don't see that in your article.

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