Profiling Foreign Students is Rational and Legitimate
Sixty years ago, the United States placed Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans in internment camps. Our country has also excluded people of various nationalities simply because we didn't like "their kind." The government's scrutiny of Middle Eastern students in response to September 11 has thus evoked acute suspicions and fears that the Hollywood scenario in "The Siege" will become a reality. Others are concerned that even if internment is a remote possibility, the recent heightened attention toward a group of foreign students amounts to racial profiling. These fears are perfectly reasonable but, thankfully, unsupported by what has happened thus far.
As much as Americans today insist on treating people as individuals, there are some regrettable circumstances in which grouping has legitimate purposes. The Supreme Court has recognized the necessity of grouping by subjecting "inherently suspect" classifications like race to a standard of "strict scrutiny," while letting classifications with a reasonable purpose pass with "intermediate scrutiny." Fundamentally, the Court asks whether there is a "rational basis" for a government policy that treats a particular group of people differently. In its recent treatment of foreign students, the government has demonstrated a "rational basis" for measures that group people to meet a pressing state interest while minimizing the violation to individuals' dignity.
Without casting aspersions on the people and the culture of the region, we cannot deny that the Middle East is a hotbed of fanaticism. Thousands of militants have been indoctrinated by calls for the violent destruction of entire groups of people merely out of spite for their way of life. While fanatic terrorists can be found anywhere-even at home-fanaticism in the Middle East is much more intense, virulent, and widespread than it is anywhere else. Accordingly, authorities are trying to learn more about how terrorists from this region operate. After two attacks on the World Trade Center, we know that terrorists have entered and remained in the country by overstaying their student visas. We know that there are "sleeper cells"-groups of terrorists who enter the country and stay incognito for extended periods until they receive their activation order. What we do not know is who and where these individuals are.
Just as the United States and other countries have banned people who have lived in the United Kingdom from donating blood to protect against the possibility that they came into contact with "Mad Cow Disease," the government is questioning people-many of them students-who have lived and had substantial social contacts in the Middle East, and who might thus well have come into contact with terrorist groups. This analogy is imperfect, however, since the specific people being questioned of course are not suspected of having been...