ACLU Questions Need for Cuba Travel Ban; Cites Constitutional Right to Travel

February 11, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today commended a Senate subcommittee for holding an oversight hearing into the need and effectiveness of the current ban on American travel to Cuba.

“There is no reason why Americans shouldn’t be able to practice their constitutional right to travel freely to Cuba,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Contact between our two countries would be mutually beneficial, demonstrating to Cubans the desirability of democracy and freedom and further informing us about our nearest neighbor in the Caribbean.”

The oversight hearing was held today by the Senate Treasury and General Government Subcommittee to examine the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Treasury Department office responsible for enforcing the Cuba travel ban.

The Supreme Court has found that the ability to travel freely across the borders of the United States is a right protected by the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. Former Supreme Court Justice William Douglas described freedom of movement as “the very essence of our free society, setting us apart…. it often makes all other rights meaningful.”

The Court upheld the Cuba travel restrictions in 1984 but cited overriding Cold War national security concerns asserted by the government. But even the Department of Defense says that those concerns no longer exist and that the island nation poses little threat.

“The ACLU believes that the travel ban infringes on the constitutional right of Americans to travel freely across international borders and is not justified by any valid interest that could conceivably trump that right,” Edgar said.

Last July, the ACLU supported an amendment to H.R. 2590, the FY2002 Treasury/Postal Appropriations Bill that would have ended funding for enforcement of the restrictions on travel to Cuba. That amendment, offered by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Howard Berman (D-CA), was approved by a strong vote of 240-186. The amendment was not included in the final legislation.

“Foreign policy should not be implemented by methods that violate the Constitution,” Edgar added. “Today’s hearing will hopefully continue the process of government’s reevaluation of the travel ban and bring an end to an unnecessary and fundamentally counterproductive regulation.”

The ACLU’s letter on Cuba travel can be found at:

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