Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on International Students

Members proposed further barriers for Chinese international students and xenophobic concerns. The Senate Judiciary hearing on May 30th discussed the vetting of Chinese students and concerns about Chinese infringement on economic, intellectual property, and other fronts.

On May 30th, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration held a hearing entitled “Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security.” Originally, the hearing was titled, “A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit U.S Academia.” The original title reveals the goal of the hearing–to perpetuate the myth of Chinese nationals as potential spies, which has caused illegitimate allegations and persecutions of Chinese Americans for suspected espionage.


A Case for National Security?

Since Chinese international students and scholars were specifically targeted, Subcommittee Ranking Member Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) had requested Representative Judy Chu (CA-27) to testify on behalf of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. For the first time in two decades, the subcommittee rejected his request.

After the hearing, Rep. Chu tweeted

The hearing was split between two panels. The first panel included officials from the Director of National Intelligence, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, and the Department of State. The first panel stated strong commitments to protecting national security and safeguarding sensitive technology while maintaining a free and open academic environment–but emphasized that it would maintain investigative processes, such as vetting, in order to monitor students studying sensitive fields like nuclear engineering.

Chinese students were singled out by the national security officials because of China’s status as an economic competitor and due to China’s plans to acquire new technology. The panel described a concern that China could resort to espionage to get sensitive material. This rhetoric has dangerous implications, according to OCA, because it highlights a frightening trend of criminalizing Asian Americans in the name of national security. “Now, some in the administration are talking about limiting the access of Chinese students and scholars to visas. Given the current political climate, we are very concerned that this trend of racial profiling and scapegoating will lead to a restriction on visas for Chinese nationals and rhetoric that further encourages xenophobia and criminalization of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans.”

The second panel consisted of representatives from higher education institutions and Leon Rodriguez, former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Senator Durbin referred to the recent comprehensive education reform bill that was passed in the Senate but not even considered in the House. The bill included a provision that would allow foreigners with a graduate degree in STEM that have a job lined up to automatically receive a green card. The panel echoed support for international students and their continued contributions to the US economy.


More Targeted Immigration Policies

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently introduced legislation to continue to counter “Chinese espionage efforts” in American universities. Cruz’s proposed bill seeks to demonize Chinese international students as malevolent actors:  The Washington Post called the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act “a clear attempt to give the U.S. law enforcement community more tools to deal with the Chinese Communist Party’s expansion inside American educational institutions.” This legislation directly targets Chinese students and scholars as the main suspects of academic espionage based on race and national origin.

In response, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) addressed the first panel, asking them if they believed Senator Cruz’s bill was necessary, given the pre-existing systems to reduce security threats from foreign students. The panels  subsequent silence was reflected as “No.”


A Nation Built by Immigrants

The AAAFund believes it is important to support international students and immigrants across the U.S. STEM research, especially at the graduate level, depends on the contributions of international students and scholars. Chinese and Chinese American students have made numerous contributions to academia,  research, and economic competitiveness. Immigration is critical to our success as a country. As merely one example, in 1998 Dan S. Tsui, who had immigrated to the U.S. to pursue higher education, won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Painting Chinese international students as “spies” only discourages future students from coming to the U.S. and demonizes them for credible work.

This article was written by YaYa Sun, AAAF Media Intern.