Hundreds Arrested in Preelection Effort

More than 700 people were arrested on immigration violations and thousands more subjected to FBI interviews in an intense government effort to avert a terrorist attack aimed at disrupting the election.

As with past unrealized al Qaeda threats, law enforcement officials said yesterday that they do not know for sure whether any of those arrests or interviews foiled an attack.

"It's very hard to prove a negative," Michael J. Garcia, chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview Thursday. "We did cases and operations for people we thought posed national security concerns. We didn't arrest anyone who had a bomb."

For example, ICE agents arrested a 23-year-old Pakistani man in late October who had illegally entered the United States through Mexico in 2000 and was working as a fuel tanker truck driver with access to a major U.S. seaport.

The man, who was not further identified, is charged with making false statements about how he entered the country and remains under investigation for any links to terrorism.

He was one of the 237 people arrested in October on immigration violations, for a total of more than 700 since the enforcement effort began last year, Garcia said. "It was a broad approach that led us to have a very disruptive effect, we believe," he said.

Although the election season passed without an attack, officials say al Qaeda remains a dangerous foe intent on striking the United States again. The day after the election, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft told his senior staff members to not let down their guard.

The Jan. 20 presidential inauguration heads the list of upcoming high-profile events that officials say could draw terrorist interest. Others include the Feb. 6 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and the December holiday travel season, during which several threats were made last year against transatlantic flights.

Foreign Grad Student Enrollment Is Falling

A new survey indicates the number of foreign graduate students enrolling for the first time at American universities is down 6 percent this year -- the third straight decline after a decade of growth. Educators worry that the trend is eroding America's position as the world's leader in higher education.

The fall was not as steep as feared, considering that applications last spring were down 32 percent. American universities staved off a comparable decline in enrollment by admitting a higher percentage of students and persuading more admitted students to enroll.

But the results of the survey of 122 member institutions by the Council of Graduate Schools are still alarming to educators. American universities are highly dependent on foreign students for teaching and research help, particularly in the sciences and in engineering, a field in which foreigners make up 50 percent of graduate enrollment.

More than two-thirds of schools reported some decline. The steepest drops were in business (12 percent), sciences/agriculture (10 percent) and engineering (8 percent), although physical sciences rose 6 percent.

Experts believe a major factor is the difficulty -- or at least perceived difficulty -- of getting student visas under tightened U.S. immigration policies. Other factors include anti-Americanism abroad, and increasing competitiveness from universities in India, China and Europe.

-- From News Services