Groups Call On Obama Administration To Stop Refusing Visas On The Basis Of Political Views

March 18, 2009 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – One week before a federal appeals court is to hear argument in a related case, dozens of the nation’s leading academic, free speech and civil rights organizations sent a letter to high-level U.S. officials today urging them to end the practice of refusing visas to foreign scholars, writers, artists and activists on the basis of their political views and associations. In the letter, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Education Association and the Rutherford Institute call on Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to put an end to the Cold War-era practice of “ideological exclusion.”

“While the government plainly has an interest in excluding foreign nationals who present a threat to national security, no legitimate interest is served by the exclusion of foreign nationals on ideological grounds,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “To the contrary, ideological exclusion impoverishes academic and political debate inside the United States, and it sends the message to the world that the United States is more interested in silencing its critics than engaging them. Ideological exclusion is a petty and misguided practice that the Obama administration should retire immediately.”

During the Cold War, the U.S. used ideological exclusion to bar artists who were vocal critics of U.S. policy, including Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and British novelist Doris Lessing. Over the last eight years, the Bush administration revived the practice, barring dozens of prominent intellectuals from assuming teaching posts at U.S. universities, fulfilling speaking engagements with U.S. audiences and attending academic conferences.

“Ideological exclusion is ineffective as a matter of security policy and inconsistent with the ideals that make this country worth defending,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The U.S. should evaluate applicants for admission to the United States on the basis of their actions rather than their political beliefs and associations.”

The letter calls on the government to revisit several specific cases of ideological exclusion, including those of Haluk Gerger, a Turkish journalist; Dora Maria Tellez, a Nicaraguan human rights activist; Adam Habib, a South African political commentator; and Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar of Islam.

The ACLU and other U.S. organizations have brought lawsuits to challenge the exclusion of Professors Habib and Ramadan. The challenge to Professor Habib’s exclusion is pending before a federal district court in Boston. The challenge to Professor Ramadan’s exclusion is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. The ACLU will present oral arguments in Professor Ramadan’s case on Tuesday, March 24.

The full text of the letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano is available online at:

More information about the ACLU’s work to end ideological exclusions is available online at:

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