Under the Bush administration, the United States government routinely denied visas to foreign nationals whose political views it government disfavored. Once used to bar suspected Communists from entering the country, the practice of "ideological exclusion" was resurrected by the USA Patriot Act. Ideological exclusion violates Americans' First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the U.S.
So far, the Obama administration has made some positive strides towards putting an end to the practice of ideological exclusion. Notably, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed orders in January 2010 that effectively end the exclusion of two prominent scholars who were barred from the United States by the Bush administration — Professors Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib.
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The ACLU challenged the denial of visas to Professors Habib of the University of Johannesburg and Ramadan of St. Antony's College, Oxford University, in separate lawsuits filed on behalf of American organizations that had invited the scholars to speak to audiences inside the United States. In a major victory for civil liberties, both scholars traveled to the U.S. in April 2010 and addressed American audiences for the first time since their visa denials.
The decision to end the exclusion of Professors Habib and Ramadan indicated that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders. The Obama administration should conduct a broader review of visas denied under the Bush administration, reverse the exclusions of others who were barred because of their political beliefs and retire the practice of ideological exclusion for good.
Kerim Yildiz, Banned From America For Political Views? (2013 letter, blog): Kerim Yildiz, a U.K. citizen and advocate for Kurdish human rights, was told his application for a visa was denied on national security grounds, but that "the Department of State has authorized a waiver of this ineligibility." He was ultimately granted his visa a year and a half after applying, and only after the ACLU and other organizations intervened on his behalf.
American Academy of Religion v. Napolitano (2010 case): The ACLU successfully challenged the exclusion of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor and leading scholar of the Muslim world. In 2004, Ramadan was set to teach at the University of Notre Dame until the government barred him from re-entering the United States by invoking the “ideological exclusion” provision.
American Sociological Association et al v. Clinton (2010 case): The ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts successfully challenged the exclusion of Professor Adam Habib, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg. Although he was a frequent traveler to the U.S., when he arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in October 2006, Habib's visa was revoked without explanation.
Interactive: Ideological Exclusion (2008 interactive feature): Learn more about our fight against censorship at the border, the history of ideological exclusion and how you can get involved.
Ideological Exclusion (2011 timeline)
Another Victim of Ideological Exclusion? (2010 blog)
Adam Habib on Ideological Exclusion (2008 podcast)
Time to Retire Ideological Exclusion (2010 blog)
State Department Ends Unconstitutional Exclusion Of Blacklisted Scholars From U.S. (2010 press release)
NYT Calls for End to “Ideological Exclusion” (2009 blog)
Ideological Exclusion Again? (2011 blog)
Banned From America for Political Views? (2013 blog)