Cuba Trade Deal Sacrifices Right To Travel

July 6, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The deal reached by House Republicans last week to permit limited sale of food and medicine to Cuba delivers a blow to Americans’ constitutional right to travel, the American Civil Liberties Union said today. The agreement would write existing regulations restricting travel to Cuba into law.

“”This deal gives a bag of sugar more rights to go to Cuba than it allows American citizens,”” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim.

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 once observed, “”freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society, setting us apart…. it often makes all other rights meaningful.””

The Court permitted the Cuba travel restrictions in 1984, but only in light of overriding Cold War national security concerns asserted by the government. Since then, Cold War has ended and the Department of Defense has determined that Cuba no longer poses a significant military threat.

“”The end of the Cold War marks the time to end the travel restrictions to Cuba, not codify them,”” Nojeim said. “”When Americans travel abroad, they spread our values of freedom and justice. The way to bring about democratic change is through personal interaction and the sharing of our democratic ideals.””

Under the House agreement, limited classes of visitors, such as journalists, government officials, family visitors, or certain educational visitors, may lawfully go to Cuba. The proposed deal would prohibit the Treasury Department from making exceptions even on a case-by-case basis, and any relaxation of the travel restrictions would require a new law.

Bills to allow travel between the United States and Cuba are pending in the Senate (S.1919) and the House (H.R. 4471). The Senate bill, the “”Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2000,”” is co-sponsored by Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT). The House bill, introduced by Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC), has 92 co-sponsors.

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