ACLU Seeks Records on Use of Patriot Act to Deny U.S. Entry to Prominent Foreign Scholars

March 16, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — Citing a serious and growing threat to academic freedom, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records concerning the government’s practice of excluding scholars and other prominent individuals from the U.S. because of their political views.

“The government should not be barring scholars from the country simply because it disagrees with what they have to say,” said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. “Nor should immigration and State Department officials be in the business of determining which ideas Americans may hear and which they may not.”

The FOIA request filed today focuses in particular on Section 411 of the Patriot Act, which permits the government to exclude foreign scholars from the country if in the government’s view they have “used [their] position of prominence to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or to persuade others to support terrorist activity.” While the provision ostensibly focuses on those who sanction terrorism, news reports suggest that the government is using the provision more broadly to deny admission to those whose political views it disfavors.

The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks records concerning the use of Section 411 as well as the names, nationalities and professions of those who have been excluded under the law. The request is directed at the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Unfortunately, the public has very little information about how the Patriot Act is being used,” said Jaffer. “At a time when Congress is being ask to further expand the Patriot Act, the government should be more forthcoming about how it is using the powers it already has.”

In its FOIA request, the ACLU cited several recent cases in which respected scholars were barred from entering the U.S. Among them:

Tariq Ramadan, a widely respected Muslim scholar who was named a “spiritual leader” in Time Magazine’s Top 100 Innovators of the 21st Century series, was forced to resign his position at the University of Notre Dame after the government revoked his visa. News reports suggest that Prof. Ramadan was excluded under Section 411.

Dora Maria Tellez, a leader in the 1979 movement to overthrow Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza (and later a democratically elected official), was forced to abandon a teaching position at Harvard University after the government refused to grant her a visa.

A group of 61 Cuban scholars was refused permission to enter the United States to participate in the Latin American Studies Association’s international congress in Las Vegas last October. The Bush administration deemed the scholars’ entry “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Those rejected include poets, sociologists, art historians, and economists, many of whom have frequently traveled to the United States to lecture at leading American universities.

The Patriot Act’s ideological exclusion provision, Jaffer noted, echoes laws that were used in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s to bar those who were associated with the Communist Party. Those laws were used to bar, among many other prominent individuals, the writers Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dario Fo, and Pablo Neruda, and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Jaffer also noted that the ACLU has successfully used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information concerning other controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. For instance, documents obtained in response to a FOIA request about the government’s use of “National Security Letters” ultimately provided the basis for a court ruling striking down Section 505 of the Patriot Act. Section 505 permitted the FBI unilaterally to order Internet Service Providers to disclose sensitive information about their subscribers.

Today’s FOIA request regarding the exclusion of foreign nationals is online at:

Attorneys on the project include Jaffer, Ann Beeson, and Melissa Goodman of the ACLU’s National Legal Department and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

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