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UNC Officials: Students Spared Federal Record Checks So Far

While the FBI has not yet targeted any students at UNC, it has been to other university campuses across the nation to question and investigate students from the Middle East, and officials here say they anticipate a possible visit.

Part of the reason that the FBI has not yet come to UNC might be because there is a small Middle Eastern population here, said Jean Hughes, associate director of the International Center. She said UNC only has about 22 Middle Eastern students.

According to a Nov. 12 New York Times article, the FBI has been seeking various types of information about Middle Eastern college students, from where they are living to whether they are performing well in their classes. Some of the schools the FBI has contacted so far include the University of Colorado at Denver, Columbia University, Tufts University and San Diego State University.

Associate University Counsel Mary Sechriest attributed the high interest of the FBI in college students to the relative ease of foreigners obtaining a student visa as opposed to full immigration. "It's possible that someone who wasn't intending to be a real college student might get in," she said.

It is not entirely clear which UNC department the FBI would contact if it were to come to UNC. Both Hughes and University Registrar David Lanier said that if contacted by the FBI, their offices would first approach the University counsel for legal purposes.

"If (the FBI contacts) us, we will go to the University counsel and ask for direction before releasing any information on an individual or group of individuals," Hughes said.

Lanier said his office refers those requesting private information to the legal counsel. "No one in my office would give out that information without requiring further proof," he said.

Sechriest said that if anyone came to campus to investigate, they would have a court order.

But the FBI can legally delve fairly far in their investigation, Sechriest said. "I think they have pretty broad powers. It's not a run-of-the-mill thing."

Hughes said she understands that the FBI's actions might make Middle Eastern students nervous.

"They must feel somewhat uncomfortable already, and it would be difficult if they're questioned," she said.

"I think (Middle Eastern) students would be concerned, and rightly so."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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