Awaiting a hearing before a judge, UCSB student Yoon Choi remains in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after she was arrested in an immigration raid last week.
I.C.E. agents originally came to Choi’s Santa Ynez apartment to verify the legal status of her roommate, an Iranian graduate student on May 23. Although her roommate was able to provide proper documentation, Choi, a third-year sociology and philosophy major of Korean heritage, was unable to produce current proof of her legal status, resulting in her arrest and detention at a Ventura County facility.
According to I.C.E. Spokesperson Virginia Kice, Choi originally came to the United States on a visitor visa that allegedly expired in 2001.
“She was identified by I.C.E. agents following a lead about a possible student overstay,” Kice said. “She does not have a valid current visa, [so] she was taken into custody.”
Kice said investigations of alleged visa violations are highly enforced by her department. She also said Choi was recently transferred to an I.C.E. facility in San Pedro, and that an immigration judge will review her case to make the final decision regarding Choi’s future residence in the U.S.
Choi’s attorney, Leon Hazany of the Los Angeles-based firm Asherson, Klein & Darbinian, declined to comment.
Following this arrest, campus officials have questioned and investigated the methods used in tracking international students.
According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Paul Desruisseaux, university staff members were surprised by the raid, which he said did not match standard procedure. Desruisseaux said under the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, in which schools are required to verify the immigration status of their foreign students, immigration officials are expected to contact the school about irregularities before making arrests.
“What I’ve learned is that under SEVIS, campuses are supposed to be contacted if there are any questions about a possible mistake in data entry,” Desruisseaux said. “There is some question as to whether the way they went in was proper procedure.”
Kice defended I.C.E.’s actions, saying she believed campus law-enforcement authorities were informed of the raid. Additionally, while noting that schools are a partner in data collection, Kice said I.C.E. has the ultimate responsibility of finding and arresting visa violators. She also said it appears university officials made an error in entering data for the Iranian student.
“The information that originally resulted in our lead involved another student,” Kice said. “The university had made a mistake in data entry. That’s one of the challenges of using an electronic database.”
However, Desruisseaux said the raid at UCSB was the first of its kind that he could recall.
“This has never happened before, not in anyone’s memory,” Desruisseaux said. “It’s quite unusual to have people show up knocking on the door. Whether that has something do with the country of origin of that student, I don’t know. But that’s something people might speculate about.”
Desruisseaux said UCSB is home to 964 foreign students this year – 546 are graduate students and 418 are either undergraduates or on a one-year exchange program.