Lawyers from the Advancing-Justice-Asian Law Caucus (ALC) shared advice on what international students should do if approached by federal agents at a faculty-only event co-hosted by the Bechtel International Center and the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic on February 2. .
Federal agents have increasingly targeted international students across the country in recent years, mostly through investigations fueled by anti-China sentiment under the Trump administration. As of this week, however, the Justice Department is considering changing the program that first legitimized these investigations. But these changes may take a long time to take effect — and in the meantime, Stanford students, especially those of Chinese descent, are still at risk of being targeted.
Federal surveys of international students at Stanford, particularly those who are STEM-based graduate or postdoctoral students, are not new. Targeting across institutions and workplaces began four years ago when the Justice Department prioritized prosecuting economic espionage and protecting trade secrets under the Initiative chinese of 2018.
Stanford visiting scholar Chen Song was investigated by the FBI and charged with visa fraud for allegedly lying about her employer and concealing her identity as a member of the United States military forces. People’s Republic of China. Facing visa fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of documents and charges of misrepresentation, Song had the charges against her abruptly dropped at the request of the Justice Department due to multiple errors. handling of the case, including the fact of not having it Miranda rights read and questioning unclear on his visa application.
Lisa Weissman-Ward, supervising attorney at Stanford Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic who moderated the Feb. 2 discussion, said the event was only open to professors despite guidance tailored to international students, as Bechtel’s approach to the situation is developing cautiously.
“Our main aim was to provide information and advice to people who are often on the front line to hear from the person directly affected,” she said. “In the future, we also hope to engage with students.”
“Our goal is really not to alarm or incite fear,” said Deborah Choi, Equal Justice Works Fellow for ALC, before beginning the presentation. “We want to give you all information and connect you with us and our organization for help.”
Choi added that many of these investigations stem from fears that international students could contribute to the military and economic growth of the countries in which they were raised.
“The China Initiative has led to overzealous profiling and investigation, encouraging agents and prosecutors to seek out people and alleged crimes that ‘match,'” Choi said.
Although the historical targeting of Stanford students has not been quantified, Choi stressed that the problem is serious whether or not the targeting of students is a visible phenomenon, particularly given Stanford’s position as a figure of figurehead of opposition to the Chinese Initiative.
In September 2021, a group called Winds of Freedom, made up of 177 Stanford faculty members from more than 40 departments, sent an open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland advocating for an end to the China Initiative. Since then, several institutions, including Yale, Princeton and the University of California at Berkeley, have endorsed the letter. However, investigations continued in counterpart institutions.
A recent study by the University of Arizona and the Committee of 100, a nonprofit organization of prominent Chinese Americans, interviewed Chinese and non-Chinese scientists at different institutions and found revealed that for approximately 42% of non-US Chinese scientists, FBI investigations and/or the China Initiative affected their plans to stay in the US
“Government targeting has been too broad and aggressive,” Choi said. “Their approach has been to cast broad suspicion on scientists, scholars and students of Chinese descent.”
This targeting is reinforced by the deceptive tactics employed by federal agents, commenters said. The ALC recently represented a Stanford Ph.D. student of Chinese nationality, who faced similar attacks and deception. Hammad Alam, ALC’s program director and staff attorney, detailed the tactics.
“The first tactic was an unannounced home visit by two Department of Homeland Security agents asking about the student’s research,” Alam said. After denying officers entry to their home, the student was contacted again, according to Alam.
“After the home visit, officers also attempted to arrange a meeting at a local cafe to informally address the situation,” Alam explained.
On their third attempt to contact the student, officers turned to a more deceptive tactic. They sent the student an appeal letter stating that a meeting was needed for an audit of the student’s visa. However, the questions in the meeting were more tailored to the student’s research, Alam said. Alam added that this “illegitimate summons” method is a tactic used when federal agents lack sufficient evidence or probable cause to obtain a warrant.
Although these investigations are often unsuccessful, they can have long-term effects on the students involved. Some of these impacts include damage to the student’s reputation and career, financial burdens due to legal assistance and time off from work, and mental and emotional trauma.
“Our client had to change his research area” due to the student’s fear of future encounters with federal authorities, Alam said, adding that it “impacted his entire journey from career, even if the student has done nothing wrong”.
While it’s unclear whether more students were targeted beyond the case study presented at the event, Alam and Choi stressed that having this knowledge is valuable in preparing for the possibility of future investigations. The most important thing ALC lawyers want international students at Stanford to know is that they are not required to meet with federal authorities at all — and in many cases, they shouldn’t. .
“Officers will use their authority to coerce information from those who have no obligation to speak to them,” Choi explained. “We advise against speaking with agents at all, especially without a lawyer present.”
Despite the informative nature of the presentation, some attendees remained concerned about the prevalence of federal bullying at Stanford.
“How concerned should we be about our students? asked an anonymous participant in the virtual event chat. “I hope this is an ongoing conversation.”
The Bechtel Center hopes its continued outreach to international students will help alleviate the problem, according to Weissman-Ward.