Ogden Nash was an American poet famous for pithy and humorous poems. I remember one line from grade school: “…when called by a panther, dont anther.” I think of that line in conjunction with the rights of foreign students and scholars in the U.S. who are confronted by the FBI and others seeking information and cooperation.
I like my freedom and security as much as the next person, so to the extent that the FBI protects our security and safety through information obtained by foreign students and scholars, that’s great. But the methods of obtaining that information arent’ always so great. Recently, we have become aware of an alarming number of FBI approaches to foreign students and scholars going far beyond an offer to sit down and chat over coffee.
Foreign students and scholars are generally young, smart and idealistic people who are here in the U.S. to receive an education and training at some of the world’s best academic and research institutions. Often, these people become entrepreneurs who start U.S. businesses or innovators in their fields or professions who advance our businesses, science and the arts. Some, of course, are “bad guys” or inadvertently have had contact with “bad guys” or suspected “bad guys or girls.”
Government agents want to know and are quite capable of intimidating and threatening students with removal for their programs, removal from the U.S. and worse for failure to fully cooperate. Students, in particular, should be aware that they have the right to seek advice, legal and otherwise, in regard to having conversations with these agents. The conversations are not casual. The Foreign Student Offices at colleges and universities that accept foreign students and scholars are there to assist and advise students. Students should utilize these resources or consult a private attorney when approached by law enforcement. That way they can make an informed choice to meet or not to meet, speak or not speak, to provide their technology and passwords or not based upon knowledge of their rights and the risks. With apologies to Ogden Nash “…when called by the FBI, anther, but after securing answers.”