ACLU Sues Over Exclusion of South African Democracy Scholar from U.S.

September 25, 2007 12:00 am

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Ideological Exclusion Violates First Amendment Rights, ACLU Says


BOSTON – The Departments of State and Homeland Security are illegally blocking South African scholar Adam Habib from entering the U.S. under circumstances that suggest it is because of his political views, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts. Censorship at the border prevents U.S. citizens and residents from hearing speech that is protected by the First Amendment, the ACLU charges.

“Once again, the Bush administration is stifling debate by preventing U.S. audiences from engaging prominent scholars face-to-face,” said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Security Project. “When the government excludes scholars from the U.S. – particularly scholars who frequently traveled to this country without any problems in the past, but who happen to be vocal critics of U.S. policies – it sends the cowardly message that our government is afraid of opposing voices. This kind of political litmus test is both unconstitutional and un-American.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of organizations that have invited Professor Habib to speak in the U.S. in the near future, including the American Sociological Association (ASA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights (BCPR). The lawsuit, which names Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff as defendants, seeks the immediate processing of Professor Habib’s pending visa application and a declaration that his exclusion without explanation since October 2006 Habib violates the First Amendment rights of U.S. organizations, citizens, and residents.

Habib is a renowned scholar, sought after analyst, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg. He is also a Muslim who has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and certain U.S. terrorism-related policies. Until the government suddenly revoked his visa last October without explanation, he never experienced any trouble entering the U.S.; in fact, Habib lived in New York for years while earning a Ph.D. in Political Science from the City University of New York.

The October 2006 revocation of Professor Habib’s visa prevented him from attending a series of meetings with representatives from institutions such as the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Bank, Columbia University and the Gates Foundation. When he landed in New York in advance of these meetings, Habib was detained for 7 hours and interrogated about his associations and political views. Armed guards eventually escorted him to a plane and deported him back to South Africa. The State Department later revoked the visas of Professor Habib’s wife and two small children, again, without explanation.

“I find it profoundly disturbing that the U.S. government continues to deny me the opportunity to participate in the kind of robust academic and political debate that is central to the American democratic system,” said Habib. “Now more than ever, people from around the world recognize the consequences of American isolation within the global community. By letting in outsiders who represent ideological diversity, the U.S. can make good on its democratic ideals.”

Last May, Habib applied for a new visa that would allow him to travel to the U.S. to attend speaking engagements, including the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August 2007. However, on the eve of his scheduled departure to New York, the State Department informed Habib that his visa application would not be processed in time for the meeting. As a result of the State Department’s unexplained visa denial, Habib was prevented from speaking to the ASA and its members. His visa application continues to languish.

Professor Habib’s exclusion is part of a larger pattern. Over the past few years, numerous foreign scholars, human rights activists, and writers – all vocal critics of U.S. policy – have been barred from the U.S. without explanation or on unspecified national security grounds.

“Immigration officials should not be in the business of blocking our borders to people with political views they dislike,” said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Silencing critics and forbidding Americans the right to hear dissenting voices harms academic and political freedom in the United States.”

In 2006, the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of U.S. academic groups and Professor Tariq Ramadan, a widely respected Swiss scholar of the Muslim world. When the government revoked his visa in 2004, Professor Ramadan was prevented from assuming a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. The Ramadan lawsuit challenges the legality of his exclusion and the constitutionality of the Patriot Act provision under which he was initially excluded. He remains excluded from the U.S. today.

Today, the ACLU launched a new interactive web feature that tells the stories of the artists, scholars and politicians the U.S. government has kept out of the country since the inception of ideological exclusion in 1952. It is available at:

A copy of today’s complaint is available at:

More information about ideological exclusion is available at:

Attorneys in the case are Goodman, Jameel Jaffer, Nasrina Bargzie, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, and Wunsch and John Reinstein of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

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