It has been nearly 20 years since Congress repealed the provisions used during the cold war to deny visas to prominent foreign intellectuals, artists and activists because of their left-leaning politics, including the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and the British novelist Doris Lessing.
The Bush administration eagerly revived the practice, barring numerous people from entering the country for speaking engagements or conferences or to teach at leading universities — all under a flimsily supported guise of fighting terrorism.
Adam Habib, a well-known intellectual, professor and human rights activist from South Africa, was interrogated for seven hours and told that his visa had been revoked when he tried to enter the United States in 2006 for professional meetings. He was later told that his exclusion was based on terrorism-related grounds. He is challenging the action in court, but the government has yet to explain its precise legal or factual reasoning.
In 2004, the Bush administration revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss national and Muslim scholar, who was to become a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame. It again denied him a visa in 2006. Two months ago, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan unanimously reversed a lower-court ruling allowing the government's move.
The government cited evidence that from 1998 to 2002, Mr. Ramadan contributed about $1,300 to a Swiss-based charity that the Treasury Department later categorized as a terrorist organization. Mr. Ramadan said that he believed the group was involved in humanitarian projects, and that he was not aware of any connections between the charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien, and Hamas or terrorism, which, he said, he condemns. The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramadan's strong criticism of United States foreign policy is what really triggered his exclusion.
Months ago, a group of free speech advocates, including the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union called on the Obama administration to end ideological exclusions and to review dubious visa denials. We hope Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes heed.