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AAUP » Publications & Research » Academe » 2007 Issues » September-October 2007 » Nota Bene » Scholars Excluded from the United States
Scholars Excluded from the United States
By Gwendolyn Bradley
In recent years, scores of foreign citizens have been barred from the United States when they sought to travel here to attend academic conferences, take up faculty posts, or perform other scholarly work. While the number of foreign scholars excluded is a relative handful compared to the number allowed to enter the country, it represents an alarming trend that is at odds with this nation’s historic commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Sometimes the exclusions have been for overtly ideological reasons—such as the blanket exclusion of Cuban scholars seeking to attend a conference of the Latin American Studies Association. In other instances, no reason has been given by the government, leaving observers to guess that the exclusions were related to the politics or ethnic identities of the scholars in question.
Carlos Alzugaray Treto
Treto, a Cuban scholar and former ambassador to the European Union, applied for a visa to speak at the Latin American Studies Association’s International Congress in March 2003. Treto had visited the United States previously, including stints as a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University and a research fellow at Harvard University. In an interview with U.S. officials after he submitted his application, he was asked about the titles of his lectures and whether he had been a signatory to a letter condemning the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which he confirmed. His visa was denied.
The visa application of Bolivian scholar Waskar Ari was blocked for two years by the Department of Homeland Security. Ari, who had received a PhD in history at Georgetown University, was barred when he sought to replace his student visa with one that would allow him to take up a faculty post at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The department refused to give its reasons for blocking Ari’s visa application, and allowed it to be acted on only after the university sued; Ari finally received a visa in July 2007. Ari’s lawyer has said he was told that the government was concerned about Ari’s writings about the Aymara, an indigenous group in Bolivia of which Ari is a member and for which he has been an outspoken advocate.
Clarke, a Canadian anti-poverty worker, was stopped at the U.S. border in February 2002 on his way to a speaking engagement at Michigan State University. He was questioned by officials, who asked if he was opposed to the “ideology of the United States” and accused him of knowing where Osama Bin Laden was hiding, according to Clarke. He was then denied entry to the United States.
In both 2004 and 2006, the Department of State issued unprecedented blanket visa denials to Cuban scholars scheduled to participate in conferences sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association—sixty-five scholars in 2004 and fifty-five in 2006 (see list). Cuban scholars had attended the conference previously.
Egaña, a Basque historian who traveled to the United States in March 2006 to conduct research, was interrogated about the research, detained overnight, and returned to Spain with no explanation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Gerger, a Turkish sociologist and journalist, was intercepted in October 2002 at Newark Airport, where officials barred his entry with no explanation.
Ghuman, a Mills College music professor and a British citizen, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August 2006 on her return to the United States after a research visit to Britain. Her visa, valid until 2008, was revoked, and Ghuman was forced to return to Britain; no explanation was given. Ghuman had lived in the United States for a decade while earning a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and then teaching at Mills since 2003.
In October 2006, Habib, a South African citizen and prominent antiwar advocate, was intercepted at John F. Kennedy International Airport and denied entry to the United States, where he was scheduled to meet with officers of the Social Science Research Council, Columbia University, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Bank. Habib initially thought he might have been denied entry because of bureaucratic error stemming from the fact that he had once been detained as a political prisoner under South Africa’s apartheid regime. The State Department subsequently revoked the visas of his wife and their two young children—an extraordinary step for which no explanation was given.
Helbawy, the founder of the Muslim Association of Britain, was on his way to speak at a conference hosted by New York University’s Center on Law and Security in October 2006 when he was removed from his New York–bound flight, questioned about the views he intended to present, and told he would not be allowed to reboard. No explanation has been given.
In August 2006, a group of Iranian scientists and engineers from the Sharif University of Technology had their visas revoked while trying to enter the United States to attend a university reunion in California. Some of the scientists and their families, who were traveling with them, were held overnight in local jails and deported the following day without explanation, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Lafta, an Iraqi epidemiologist, was unable to deliver an April 2007 address at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine on the prevalence of cancer in Iraqi children because the U.S. government refused to act on his visa application, submitted months in advance. Lafta has published research in the Lancet, a respected British medical journal, estimating that deaths of Iraqi civilians as a result of the American invasion are far higher than the death tolls announced by the Bush administration.
In 2004, Canadian citizen Meziane, a physicist at the University of New Brunswick, was turned away at the U.S. border en route to a research conference to which he had been invited by the University of New Hampshire. The Department of Homeland Security gave Meziane written reasons for his exclusion, which he demonstrated to be false using official Canadian government documents; the department, however, refused to reconsider and the U.S. ambassador refused, without explanation, a request from the Canadian Association of University Teachers to discuss the case.
John (Yoannis) Milios
In 2006, government officials intercepted Milios, a Greek professor of Marxist economic theory, at John F. Kennedy International Airport and denied him entry. Milios, who had been in this country on five separate occasions between 1996 and 2003, was on his way to an academic conference at the Stony Brook University when he was halted, questioned about his beliefs and associations, and sent back to Greece.
In 2004, the Bush administration revoked a visa that had been issued to Ramadan, a Swiss citizen and a renowned scholar of the Muslim world, to take up an appointment as a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame. Government officials first suggested that Ramadan had been excluded under the “ideological exclusion” provision of the USA Patriot Act; later, in response to a lawsuit filed by the AAUP and other organizations in behalf of Ramadan, the government said it had declined to renew Ramadan’s visa application because he had donated some $900 to two Palestinian relief organizations that in turn gave money to Hamas—donations which Ramadan had disclosed to U.S. consular officials and which were made before the United States designated the relief organizations as terrorist organizations.
Dora María Téllez
Téllez, a historian who had been a leader of the 1979 Sandinista movement that overthrew the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was denied a visa to take up a teaching position she had accepted at Harvard Divinity School. A U.S. official said that Téllez, who had served as Nicaragua’s minister of health, had been involved in “terrorism.”
Vérez-Bencomo, a Cuban scientist, was barred in November 2005 from entering the United States to accept an award for his part in the research and development of a lowcost vaccine for meningitis and pneumonia. He had also been invited to speak at a meeting of the Society for Glycobiology, in Boston. According to the Associated Press, Bencomo said he was told by the State Department that his visit would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”