Federal Court Rules Bush Administration Must Justify Scholar’s Visa Denial

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

James Freedland, ACLU national, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Christopher Ott, ACLU of Massachusetts, (617) 482-3170 x322; cott@aclum.org

Federal Court Rules Bush Administration Must Justify Scholar’s Visa Denial

ACLU Hails Victory, Says U.S. Must End Censorship At The Bord

BOSTON - A
federal court today ruled that it has the power to review whether the
Bush administration has a valid reason for denying a visa to respected
South African scholar Adam Habib. The decision comes in a lawsuit
brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Massachusetts
challenging the State Department's refusal to grant Professor Habib a
visa based on unsubstantiated national security claims. Habib remains
banned from the country and unable to attend speaking engagements in
the United States.

"Today's ruling reaffirms that the Bush administration cannot
manipulate immigration laws to silence critics of U.S. government
policy and then shield their actions from scrutiny by the courts. The
government cannot cherry pick whose voices we are allowed to hear,"
said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security
Project who argued the case in court. "As the court recognized, the
government cannot bar Professor Habib from speaking in the U.S. without
any explanation or substantiation whatsoever. Today's decision is a
major victory for judicial review and a significant blow to the
administration's failed attempt at stifling debate by banning a
prominent critic of U.S. policy."
 
Judge George A. O'Toole, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Massachusetts ruled that the First Amendment requires the
government to provide a valid, substantiated reason for excluding a
scholar invited to speak to U.S. audiences. Writing that "the
government has not given a reason for the denial," Judge O'Toole
allowed the ACLU's challenge to move forward. In late 2007, the State
Department refused Habib a visa after months of inaction, claiming that
he is barred because he has "engaged in terrorist activities," but the
government failed to explain the basis for its accusation, let alone
provide any evidence to prove it. 

Habib is a renowned scholar, sought-after political analyst, and Deputy
Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the
University of Johannesburg. He is also a Muslim who has been a vocal
critic of the war in Iraq and some U.S. terrorism-related policies.
Habib has repeatedly condemned terrorism but urged governments to
respond to the terror threat with policies that are consistent with
human rights norms and the rule of law. Until the government suddenly
revoked his visa without explanation in October 2006, he never
experienced any trouble entering the U.S.; in fact, Habib lived in New
York with his family for years while earning a Ph.D. in political
science from the City University of New York.

The October 2006 revocation of Professor Habib's visa prevented him
from attending a series of meetings with representatives from the
National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the World Bank, Columbia University and the Gates
Foundation. When he landed in New York, Habib was detained for seven
hours and interrogated about his associations and political views.
Armed guards eventually escorted him to a plane and deported him back
to South Africa. The State Department later revoked the visas of
Professor Habib's wife and two small children, again without
explanation. In May 2007, Habib applied for a new visa that would allow
him to travel to the U.S. to attend speaking engagements.

The ACLU filed this lawsuit in September 2007, charging that the
government's exclusion of Professor Habib amounts to censorship at the
border because it prevents U.S. citizens and residents from hearing
speech that is protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU brought this
case on behalf of organizations that have invited Professor Habib to
speak in the U.S., including the American Sociological Association, the
American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian
Rights. Habib has missed several of these events as a result of his
visa denial.

"We are gratified that the court ruled that this case can go forward,"
said Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer of the American Sociological
Association. "The government's actions have already prevented Professor
Habib from attending two American Sociological Association conferences.
We believe that the global exchange of knowledge is vital to the
advancement of science and we are hopeful that the today's ruling will
facilitate the free exchange of ideas."

Professor Habib's exclusion is part of a larger pattern. Over the past
few years, numerous foreign scholars, human rights activists and
writers - all vocal critics of U.S. policy - have been barred from the
U.S. without explanation or on vague national security grounds. In
2006, the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of U.S. academic
groups and Professor Tariq Ramadan, a widely respected Swiss scholar of
the Muslim world. When the government revoked his visa in 2004,
Professor Ramadan was prevented from assuming a tenured teaching
position at the University of Notre Dame. The ACLU's case is currently
pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit;
Ramadan remains excluded from the U.S. to this day.

Attorneys in the case are Goodman, Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of
the ACLU, and Sarah Wunsch and John Reinstein of the ACLU of
Massachusetts.

More information about ideological exclusion - including a podcast with
Adam Habib, plaintiff statements in support of Habib, and today's
decision - is available at: www.aclu.org/exclusion

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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