Groups Call on Obama Administration to Stop Refusing Visas on the Basis of Political Views

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, ACLU, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Groups Call on Obama Administration to Stop Refusing Visas on the Basis of Political Views

Bush Administration Used Immigration Laws to Censor Academic and Political Debate Inside US, Groups Say

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: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/39050leg20090318.html

More information about the ACLU's work to end ideological exclusions is available online 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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