Federal Judge Says Government Must Act on Muslim Scholar’s Visa Request

June 23, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — A federal judge today ruled that the government cannot continue to stonewall the visa application of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent European Muslim scholar, and that the government cannot bar non-citizens from the United States simply because of their political views. The decision comes in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging a part of the Patriot Act known as the “ideological exclusion” provision.

“Today’s ruling reaffirms that the government cannot use the immigration laws to silence and stigmatize its political critics,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s National Security Program and lead attorney in the case. “As the court recognized, the ideological misuse of the immigration laws has significant effects on the freedom of academic and political debate inside the United States.”

The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center. The groups say that the government’s refusal to allow Ramadan into the country is violating their right to hear constitutionally protected speech.

In 2004, Ramadan accepted a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, but the government later revoked his visa, referring to a provision of the Patriot Act that applies to non-citizens who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.” In the decision issued today, however, Judge Paul A. Crotty of the U.S. District Court for the Second Circuit noted that Ramadan “shuns violence as a form of activism and has consistently spoken out against terrorism and radical Islamists.” Judge Crotty also pointed out that, “while the United States has not granted Ramadan a visa to enter the country, Great Britain, its one staunch ally in the battle against terrorism, has not only admitted him into England so that he may teach at Oxford, but has enlisted him in the fight against terrorism.”

Ramadan submitted a new visa application in September 2005 but the government has not acted upon it, arguing that Ramadan might make future comments that would render him inadmissible under the Patriot Act provision. Judge Crotty emphatically rejected that argument.

“Allowing the government to wait for ‘possible future discovery of statements’ would mean that the government could delay final adjudication indefinitely, evading constitutional review by its own failure to render a decision on Ramadan’s application. The Court will not allow this,” wrote Judge Crotty.

Throughout his ruling, Judge Crotty underscored the need for judicial review in this case, stating that the government may not invoke national security “as a protective shroud to justify the exclusion” of people whose political views it disfavors.

“While the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alien’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience,” wrote Judge Crotty.

“Americans have a right to meet with foreign scholars and to hear speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” said ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman. “The free exchange of ideas is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy that should not be abandoned simply because the administration is afraid of its critics.”

In addition to Jaffer and Goodman, attorneys in the case are Judy Rabinovitz and Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Arthur N. Eisenberg of the NYCLU; and New York immigration lawyer Claudia Slovinsky. The lawsuit was brought against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Today’s decision is online at www.aclu.org/safefree/general/25990lgl20060623.html

Background and briefs on the case are online at www.aclu.org/exclusion.

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