Government Refusing to Turn Over Records on Exclusion of Foreign Scholars, Lawsuit Charges

November 10, 2005 12:00 am

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Government Practice of "Ideological Exclusion" Threatens Academic and Intellectual Freedom, Says ACLU

NEW YORK -- The State Department and other government agencies are illegally withholding records concerning the practice of excluding foreign scholars and other prominent intellectuals from the United States because of their political views, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center.

"The right to hear a full range of ideas and opinions is a vital part of American democracy," said ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman. "The government should not be in the business of censoring ideas that it deems inappropriate for the American public to hear.""

The groups charge that the government's refusal to turn over documents violates its obligation to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the ACLU in March. The ACLU's FOIA request, filed with the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency, seeks information on the government's use of immigration laws, including a provision added by the Patriot Act, to exclude scholars and other prominent individuals from entering the United States because of their political views.

Section 411 of the Patriot Act 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." However, the ACLU said that there is evidence that the government is using the provision more broadly to deny entry to people whose political views it disfavors.

News reports suggest the government invoked Section 411 in 2004 to deny admission to Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss intellectual who is widely regarded as a leading scholar of the Muslim world. As a result, Ramadan was forced to resign his teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. Ramadan was previously granted a U.S. visa in 2002 to carry out his lecture tour, which included a presentation sponsored by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

"The government should not be barring scholars from the country simply because it disagrees with what they have to say," said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff attorney. "The government's abuse of immigration laws skews and impoverishes political debate in the United States and deprives citizens of information that they need in order to make informed decisions about government policy."

Several other prominent figures who have been denied entry to the United States in recent years similarly appear to have been excluded for ideological reasons. For example, in 2005, Dora María Telléz, a leader in the 1979 movement that overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, was forced to turn down a position as the Robert F. Kennedy visiting professor in Latin American studies at Harvard University after she was denied a visa. Telléz, who has traveled to the United States several times in the past on personal visits and business trips, said she was shocked when officials told her she was denied entry because of supposed involvement with "terrorism."

In October 2004, 61 Cuban scholars, who were scheduled to attend the Latin American Studies Association's international congress, were denied entry less than two weeks before the congress convened. According to the State Department, the denials were in keeping with the Bush administration goal to hasten democratic reform in Cuba.

In 2002, John Clarke, an organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, was stopped at the customs booth at the U.S.-Canada border while on his way to a speaking engagement in Michigan. After officials checked his identification, Clarke was asked if he was opposed to the "ideology of the United States." Officials then searched his car and Clarke was forced to wait until a State Department agent drove up from Detroit to interrogate him. He was turned away after five hours.

The ACLU expressed concern that the recent exclusions mark a return to a time when the government "blacklisted" prominent figures because of their political associations or for criticizing U.S. policy. During the Cold War, the United States routinely used the immigration laws to deny entry to those associated with the Communist Party. Under this policy, the government excluded writers and playwrights such as Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dario Fo, Pablo Neruda and Carlos Fuentes, as well as former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and former NATO Deputy Supreme Commander Nino Pasti.

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