When I was in high school, I read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and daydreamed about hitchhiking west, getting to know fellow Americans through long road trips into the night and seeing all the little crevices of this great country.
Then my friends helped me to realize times have changed. They told me the innocence of America was gone. If I really tried to hitchhike across the country, I probably would have been picked up by some Jeffery Dahmer-like psycho or perhaps a character from "Deliverance."
To a certain extent, they were right. The days of trusting your neighbor seem over. The recent terrorist attacks and the ongoing anthrax scare appear to be another step toward isolating Americans from one another.
At a school like UB it may be easy to dismiss such a claim because of the interaction of our diverse student body. But across the country, will it not be more difficult for the typical American to trust their neighbors who bear resemblance to those from the Middle East?
I honestly hope that America does not collectively abandon the trust of Arab-Americans, but I would not necessarily blame it for doing so. How could I? These terrorists live in our country, exploiting the beliefs and values of our country until they are called to action.
Until they run planes into buildings, they live next door. A man in Florida said he was shocked to discover the identity of one of the terrorists, realizing their children often played together. Even mail laced with potentially fatal bacteria is being sent from somewhere within our borders.
This is not a call for hysteria, but practicality. The government believes there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorists living in our country right now. I love my rights and freedoms just as much as any other American. But, I have no problem giving away some of these rights to the government so long as they provide me with security measures that protect me and fellow citizens from further terrorist attacks. Perhaps we shouldn't worry about privacy so much and should instead look into keeping tabs on the people entering our country.
At least 16 of the 19 hijackers entered the United States on temporary visas as students, workers or tourists, according to the Sept. 23 edition of "60 Minutes." This strikes me as unbelievable. I knew a kid from Russia while studying abroad in Germany. He was very smart and involved with the school, took part in a Model United Nations Conference in New York, and even knew a congressman here. He was rejected for a student visa.
One of the terrorists who hijacked the jet that crashed into the Pentagon received a student visa to study English in Oakland, Calif. and became an illegal alien when he didn't show up for classes, according to "60 Minutes."
"They do background checks," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "But ... they don't have nearly enough time and enough people to do the kind of background checks - especially for Middle Eastern visa applicants - that they probably should be doing."
Once America opened its doors to these people, they slipped through the cracks. INS does not require any specific investigation into those who overstay their visa. In the past, terrorists from the Middle East have entered the country and found safe haven in Arab-American communities.
There should be some sort of universally accessible computerized system that constantly monitors the status of visas. Universities and employers should work together with the INS to help monitor the whereabouts of illegal immigrants. This isn't likely to cover every single person entering our borders. At least it could help provide the government with information about the locations of these terrorist cells and their accomplices.
"If we had caught just two or three of these people - or were able to track them down, and the FBI was able to grab them beforehand - they would have had something to work with," said Krikorian.
America prides itself on being a melting pot, but we need to ensure that our multiculturalism is safe and secure. Policies that seek to restrict the privilege of gaining access to our country should be embraced, perhaps allowing us to have more faith in those of us who live together.