Blogs > Cliopatria > Bush, Visas, and the American Mind

Mar 6, 2005 7:40 pm

Bush, Visas, and the American Mind

A vigorous, if polemical debate is being waged over diversity among America’s tenured. In this context it should be noted that the Bush Administration has come down firmly on the side of reducing diversity.

The exclusion of Dora Maria Tellez, noted at HNN, but at far too few other news venues, continues the administration misuse of laws against terrorists to suppress voices it does not. It does so from barring them from this country.

And it works well of course. The vast majority of Americans pay no attention to international news. American news sources can make much more money by giving photo ops to Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson. Therefore, advertisers don’t want to see coverage of stuff like this, particularly when it might take more than a minute to be fair and balanced.

And right wing ideologues have gotten so good at making tempests out of Ward Churchill-sized teapots, that any other news out of academia—except maybe for the evolution debate is pretty much smashed. Very effective.

This exclusionary policy goes bar beyond barring the occasional leftist or Islamic singer from our shores. The restrictions on the student visa program is limiting the foreign students (registration required)who come to our shores for scientific education. At a time when the world is catching up with and even surpassing the United States in areas such as super computer development and in science and innovation in general, the Bush administration encourages the best and the brightest from abroad to find other places to learn, to teach, and to do their work.

Which they will.

Postscript: In a comment, Ralph reminded me of the even more egregious case of case of Tariq Ramadan. In his case, the Bush administration excluded a creative voice for finding a meeting place between Islamic and western values.
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Richard Henry Morgan - 3/8/2005

BTW, thanks Oscar, for the tip about Pipes' stuff. Pipes links to assertions that Ramadan was banned from France in 1995 for links to an Algerian terrorist group, and Ramadan apparently denies even knowing a man who is under indictment for terrorist acts and who helped Ramadan prepare speeches. Just assertions, mind you (and there are more), but if there is good intelligence on this, I'm rather glad he's not here.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/8/2005

I don't know if either has taken hostages, or has committed any of the other acts prohibited under the law. As far as I can tell, the act doesn't allow for exceptions. Perhaps any exceptions derive from outside the act -- perhaps heads of state don't need visas (are covered by other regs), since the portion cited only addresses the issuance of visas.

I say as far as I can tell, because other sections do explicitly delegate the power to make exceptions, while the relevant ones do not -- 212(3)(B)(iv)(VI), which deals with material support, does have an escape clause, leaving it up to the Secretary of State or the Attorney-General, after consultation with his opposite number, to determine that it should not apply (either has a veto).

I would just like to amend some things I wrote. The sections I cited were sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC 1182) as it appears after amended by the Patriot Act. The actual relevant sections of the Patriot Act are just about unreadable, as they consist of insertions and deletions to 8 USC. For the truly curious, those portions of the Patriot Act occur around Section 411.

The real potential for abuse seems to me to derive from the legislature, rather than enumerating the terrorist groups, delegates administrative authority for doing so to the State Dept. There it can get real fuzzy and open to abuse.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/8/2005

Does this mean that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot come to the US? Or Sharon? If you are right, he has no choice but to exclude them.

You've taken a very literal approach to this. I'm glad you have because it's led you to dig into the text of the law, but interpreting Bush administration action as being a literal and consistent interpretation of the law does not hold water. The administration is picking and choosing.

The one thing that could be said in their defense is that the law is so absurdly written that they have no choice but to be inconsistent. That leads me to wonder if they are calling for changes in these provisions as part of renewing and expanding the Patriot Act.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/8/2005

For those curious about the relevant law (the Patriot Act), I include the relevant portions. Section 212(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) states the ineligibility for a visa for any alien "who has engaged in a terrorist activity." Section 212(a)(3)(B)(iii) defines terrorist activity as ...

"any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if it had been committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State) and which involves any of the following:
... (II) the seizing or detaining, and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain, another individual in order to compel a third person (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the individual seized or detained."

Now, reading that, it doesn't seem to me to be widely open to interpretation by the government. Nor does it leave any doubt as to the fact that Tellez meets the criteria for exclusion. Nor does it allow for the waiving of any such criteria or exclusion. In other words, by not excluding Tellez, Bush would be failing to execute the laws of the land, and would be in violation of his oath of office as stated in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, of the US Constitution, and would be eligible for impeachment. As enticing a prospect as that may be for many of you, it seems an insufficient reason for urging him to break the law, as so many have done in this case.

Cat Stevens, I believe (I'll leave this as a homework assignment) falls under 212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(bb) or (cc).

Greg James Robinson - 3/8/2005

These are serious issues that Oscar does well to raise. From the beginning, antiterrist legislation has been used for other purposes (think of the Latin Americans who have been rounded up and deported, although they had nothing whatsoever to with Al-Queda--their visas were expired). The Bush administration may not simply interpret "terrorist" as it wishes to permit or deny entry to foreigners based on whether they agree with them politically. I am reminded of the time some years ago when I helped my then-roommate fill out her application for citizenship. On it she was asked if the had EVER been a memeber of the Communist Party, or whether she had been a member of the Nazi Party BETWEEN 1933 and 1945. Being a Nazi at any other time was OK, but being a Communist for 15 minutes (as T.S. Eliot said of Stephen Spender) was enough to keep you out.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/7/2005

As usual, Oscar, your response is well-thought out and civil. My understanding is that Cat Stevens (by whatever name he is going by these days) was not excluded on the basis of his own terrorist acts, but on the basis of his having given material support to Hamas -- the US having adopted the line that it doesn't recognize the convenient distinction between terrorist and non-terrorist wings of the one organization.

As for Dora Maria Tellez, I would simply point out that the Guardian article linked to by the HNN mainpage, which relates the fact that she and her cohorts took 2,000 government officials hostage -- right down to the secretaries and janitors (real Somozistas each and every one, I'm sure) -- carefully and conveniently elides the fact that they exchanged the hostages, in part, for good old hard cash. Who knew political terrorism could pay so well? Like the Baader-Meinhof terrorists, the Sandinistas, while proclaiming their concern for the common man, took on the appearance of (as one Mexican radical put it) upwardly mobile revolutionaries. They expropriated the lands and houses of the rich, and rather than selling them off for the people's profit, moved right in themselves -- that is when Tomas Borge wasn't giving interviews to the foreign press, at which point he would affect to live in a spartan room in a military barracks. I can understand why the Guardian would strike that non-heroic matter of bodies for cash from the record -- wouldn't want the full story getting out, would we?

We also differ on Bosch. Personally, I'd shoot the bastard if it were legal to do so.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/7/2005


You are right to point out an apparent conflict between my original post and my response. My fault for not being clearer.

I think the restrictions on visas is being used in a number of harmful ways. I don't know the wording of the law, but it seems to allow interpretation of who is or who isn't a terrorist up to the executive branch, hence my emphasis on interpretation.

With the possible exception of student visas (which may be simply heavy handed "pennywise, pound foolish" anti-terrorist measures) what is in common is the exclusion from the United States of people with viewpoints that the Administration does not like.

One way is the targeting of people who are not terrorist, period. I'm pretty positive Cat Stevens falls into that category.

Another is exclusding prominent "thinkers" who neither aided, abetted, or committed no terrorism but who have, in the course of their career, had contact with people associated with terrorist groups. Ramadan is the example here. The problem here is twofold. One, someone of curiosity who is attempting to reconcile Islamic and European world views is pretty much by definition going to have made such contacts. Two, as best as I can tell, there has been little attempt to distinguish contact and support.

Three, we really need such people for the knowledge they can bring us.

Tellez's cases raises interesting concerns. I don't know enough about the details of her hostage taking to pass anything resembling judgement. On the surface it seems like a comparatively non-violent revolutionary act, but let's assume I'm wrong and it was nastier.

She not only served the Sandinista regime; she also took part in the politics of the 1990s, after the Sandinistas lost power but remained a legitimate political player. so the question of the legality of her previous actions is moot, from the Nicaraguan perspective.

Finally, one of the most important signs of reconciliation--however limited--in revolutions is when the "terrorists" become part of the process. Excluding Tellez undercuts that.

By the way, so long as Orlando Bosch has not been committing any more crimes--mass murderer though he is, the elder Bush pardoned him--I would at least consider granting hem a visa. I reaaly do believe in a wide range of ideas crossing the border.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/7/2005

I think we're jumping back and forth between two things -- criticism of the law itself, and criticism of its application. As Oscar originally put it, he saw this as a misuse of the law against terrorists. One might take that, and subsequent silence on the issue of whether she is a terrorist, as an admission that she qualifies as such.

The next question, I suppose, is the purpose of the law. Normally, one might imagine it to be aimed at current threats to the US, and the professor probably doesn't qualify on that count. But I suggest (and I think the legislative history bears me out on this) that it had a wider purpose. The US has (for domestic political reasons) long turned a blind eye toward favored terrorists -- like terrorists that commit such acts against Cuba, or against the British in Northern Ireland. To enrol the rest of the world in a campaign against terrorism, the US has to have clean hands on the issue.

The US can't have clean hands if it allows terrorists in favor to take refuge in the US. In fact, the term 'terrorist' recognizes the illegitimacy of the means regardless of the ends, a distinction also recognized in the law of land warfare. The distinction jus in bello captures this intuition, and is a response to the classical preoccupation with bellum justum, to the exclusion of legal constraints on means.

Now if you want to go down the road of ignoring jus in bello law in favor of certain terrorists, that's certainly your privilege. It just doesn't leave you much of leg to stand on when criticizing scum like Orlando Bosch. By the way, I really got a kick out that expression 'freedom-loving terrorists' -- Bosch would certainly claim that mantle, though somehow I don't see him becoming the toast of Cambridge cocktail parties.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/7/2005

A crime against the Somoza regime should of course be held against freedom-loving terrorists for the rest of their lives. So long as you have life and breath, Richard, I expect right-wing opinions to be expressed at Cliopatria.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/7/2005

Look, I don't know a thing about Ramadan. For all I know, the denial of a visa to him is a grave injustice. I for one, wouldn't cite in his behalf, the fact that he had already sent his belongings to the US before he even had a visa. That's just me, and that's my only point about him.

Before Dora Maria Tellez took part in a conflict with the US (which suspended military aid to Somoza a year before he fell), she engaged in the taking of hostages -- not only an act of terrorism, but a war crime under the law of land warfare. That war crime was not a crime against the US. Are we seriously pleading here that that was not a war crime and an act of terrorism? Or are we rather pleading for a left-wing terrorist exception? Or still more, an exception for terrorists who haven't commited terrorist acts of late?

It escapes me how any prior US acts of terrorism imply that the Bush Administration is misusing recent laws barring terrorists. Had the good Ms. Dora Maria Tellez taken hostages in support of, say, a coup by Pinochet, this website would be buzzing with condemnations of a Bush Administration letting her into the country.

I have no doubt that the US would survive any number of her lectures. I just think that a rule against allowing terrorists of any stripe in, evenly enforced, has more of the character of principle, than devising exceptions for favorite left-wing terrorists. The better argument is that scum like Orlando Bosch have been let into this country by previous Republican administrations -- though that isn't a knock on Bush.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/7/2005

In Telez's case, she took part in a bitter conflict with the United States twenty years ago. Our current administration had appointees who helped fund terrorist organizations in Nicaragua (if by terrorism, we simply mean those who commit terrorist acts). If they can be safely a part of our government, she can safely give a lecture.

In Ramadan's case I gather that there were allegations that he had contact with someone who may have been a part of Al Qaeda. I have seen no accusations that he took part in or enabled in any way any terrorist organization or actions. (I think Pipes has something up if you want a different opinion).

However, to put it simply, we need all sorts of dialgoues between Islamic culture western cultures. Ramadan has been working to do just that. Having him here, in an educational institution, had the chance of encouraging greater understanding. We need to pursue that, particularly if there are multiple regime changes in the middle east. We need to know more about the range of people rising to the top and their hopes and their aspirations.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2005

Thought you might get a kick out of this, Ralph:

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

It was meant to be charming.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2005

I take it, then, that is your charming way of saying we disagree?

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2005

Just as an interesting aside, when I arrived in Switzerland to live for three years, government officials did an inventory of each and every household item that came in my shipping. When I left, they showed up again to make sure that each and every household item departed with me. I've never since assumed any level of common sense on the part of any government.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

Richard, On the first question, I hoped that your conservative and patriotic inclinations might illuminate your conservative and patriotic inclinations. On the second question, I hoped that your reasoning skills might inform your reasoning, instead of merely invoking your predisposition to hold the professorate up to scorn.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2005

I'm not sure I understand the drift of your last question? Is it meant to imply that each and every soldier in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars took hostages? And were that true, would that be sufficeint to trump the modern law of land warfare (the Geneva and Hague Conventions)?

On the other subject, I can only speak for myself. I've probably visited somewhere around 60 different nations, and lived in seven of them for more than a year each. I've even been invited to some of them. And even without the benefit of a PhD, I never assumed I would be admitted before I had a visa in hand. I submit most adults would do the same, though I can't venture a guess as to the common practice among academics. And no, I don't assume that private contracts determine state policy.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

If you had a signed contract with Notre Dame, wouldn't you be reasonably certain that the government of the United States would be reasonable enough to allow it to be honored? And wouldn't you want your furnishings to be there when you arrived? And which American patriot of the Revolutionary or Civil War eras would you deny passport or visa privilege?

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2005

I don't hold a brief for excluding Ramadan -- I don't know anything about the case. I just wonder about anybody who sends his library and his belongings ahead before getting a visa. I guess it's quite possible (the eccentric Oxford don as stereotypical example) to be a top notch scholar without an ounce of common sense. As for the Nicaraguan case, I'd be interested in hearing argument as to why her exclusion is a misuse of the law. My understanding is she took civilian hostages, and did so as part of a military/political action. Just where does that depart from the definition of terrorism?

Robert KC Johnson - 3/6/2005

Indeed. This is a troubling and self-defeating policy by the administration, both in the short term and the long term, since bringing foreign scholars to the United States has been a perfect example of the US successfully employing "soft power" since World War II.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/6/2005

Oscar, I was surprised that your post did not mention the case of Tariq Ramadan who was denied a visa to come to the United States to teach at Notre Dame. His library and his family's belongings had already been shipped here when the visa was denied. It was a big loss to American intellectual life.

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