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November 14, 2007
ASA and ACLU Rebuke U.S. Government for Denying
South African Scholar’s Visa
ACLU Renews Legal Challenge, Says U.S. Unfairly Maligning Distinguished
BOSTON – In response to the unjustified denial of a visa to renowned South
African scholar Adam Habib, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of
Massachusetts today renewed their legal challenge against the Departments of
State and Homeland Security. 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. The ACLU, in today’s
legal complaint, is now demanding that the government substantiate its ban on
Habib or grant him a visa.
“In one fell swoop, the U.S. government has
stifled political debate in this country and maligned the reputation of a
respected scholar without giving one shred of evidence to support its claims,”
said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security
Project. “It appears that Professor Habib is being excluded not because of his
actions but because of his political views and associations.”
legal challenge amends a lawsuit, filed in September in the U.S. District Court
for the District of Massachusetts, 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 went to court on behalf of organizations that have invited
Professor Habib to speak in the U.S., including the American Sociological
Association (ASA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Boston Coalition for
Palestinian Rights (BCPR). The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the government
from excluding Professor Habib unless it comes forward with evidence to
substantiate its accusations.
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. Until the government suddenly revoked his
visa in October 2006 without explanation, 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.
“As someone who studies democracies around the world, it is deeply
upsetting that the U.S. government refuses to allow me to cross its borders
because of my political views. While I have criticized U.S. foreign policy as a
political commentator, it is utterly absurd that anyone would associate me with
terrorism,” said Habib. “This is not just about me – it is about protecting the
free exchange of ideas that America is supposed to be about.”
Habib applied for a new visa that would allow him to travel to the U.S. to
attend speaking engagements. The government’s failure to process Professor
Habib’s visa in time for him to attend the annual meeting of the American
Sociological Association (ASA) in August 2007, and the fact that the application
continued to languish after Professor Habib received numerous new U.S.
invitations, prompted the filing of the lawsuit.
Sociological Association has become increasingly concerned about apparent
systemic U.S. government interference in scientific exchange and the associated
corrosion in the luster of the nation’s democratic face to the world. ASA has
become sufficiently concerned about the need to defend our country’s commitment
to free exchange. We seek to wrest a long-awaited explanation from the U.S.
Departments of State and Department of Homeland Security as to why they refuse
to admit internationally known South African scholar Adam Habib into the United
States for purposes of scholarly exchange,” says Sally Hillsman, Executive
Director of the ASA.
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
Ramadan lawsuit challenges the legality of his exclusion and the
constitutionality of the Patriot Act provision under which he was initially
excluded. He remains excluded from the U.S. to this day.
about ideological exclusion is available at:
Attorneys in the case are Goodman, Jameel Jaffer,
Nasrina Bargzie, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU, and Sarah Wunsch and John
Reinstein of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.