EL PASO, Texas -- A new security policy requiring Customs and Border Protection officers to verify all student visas is creating delays for students who commute daily from Mexico to universities in the United States.
“We’re hearing delays anywhere from 30 minutes to three to four hours,” said Gary Edens, vice president for Student Affairs at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The delays are in addition to the amount of time students wait in line with everyone else waiting to reach a Customs and Border Protection officer and present their documents.
UTEP has the largest number of Mexican students who commute across the border daily. At least 500 students have international student visas, but the University estimates hundreds more make the trip back and forth to Mexico on a regular basis.
On Friday, CBP officers started requiring students to go through a second screening process
“You go to secondary. Park at a different place and get out of your car,” said Elizabeth Rodriguez, one of the international students.
Now she has to go inside where officers punch her information into a separate system used to verify student visas.
“The amount of international students that cross the border just overwhelms the amount of manpower they have to do that for every single one of us that’s coming every day, all day,” said Rodriguez.
The student visa verification procedure is in response to the Boston marathon bombing.
Two students who are friends of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were charged in connection with destroying evidence, and may have been in the country on student visas that were no longer valid.
The visa verification requirement applies to all international students from those who fly in once a year to those who cross the border daily.
“There’s nobody that would argue against the need to do everything we can for security,” said Edens, but the University is asking if there’s a way to streamline the procedure.
“How can we have, for example, the screening of the documents at the initial point of inspection so students don’t have to get out of their car, go to a secondary site and wait for validation? With technology, that should be something that can happen and hopefully very quickly,” said Edens.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has said she expects to have an automated system for checking student visas in place by the end of the month, but that’s not soon enough for students who are right in the middle of final exams.
Some UTEP students have missed classes. Others have missed out on year end events. One student did not make it to an honor society induction.
“That’s a shame for us because that student deserved that recognition and honor,” said Edens.