Scholar's Visa Denial Upheld

December 21, 2007

The case of Tariq Ramadan has become central to efforts by academic and civil liberties groups to challenge the denial of U.S. visas to foreign scholars. And on Thursday, a federal judge handed those groups a defeat by upholding the right of the government to deny a visa to Ramadan, a prominent Muslim scholar who has been unable to enter the United States to accept a position at the University of Notre Dame.

In a 32-page decision, Judge Paul A. Crotty notes that numerous court rulings give the government considerable leeway in deciding whom to admit to the United States, and make it extremely difficult to challenge those decisions in court. Once the government shows a "facially legitimate" reason to deny a visa, the case is over, Crotty writes, and that's how he views the Ramadan suit.

"Once the consular official has made this decision," writes the judge, "it is not the court’s role ... to second guess the result."

Judge Crotty also rejected a series of challenges in the case, largely on First Amendment grounds, to portions of the Patriot Act. The groups challenging Ramadan's exclusion argued that these provisions, which bar people who "endorse or espouse" certain groups deemed to be dangers to the United States, amount to an "ideological exclusion" of some scholars based on their opinions, not any acts they have taken. But Judge Crotty said that because the government had demonstrated a valid reason to keep Ramadan out and did not cite the Patriot Act, there was no need for him to rule on the provisions.

"The court has found that Professor Ramadan was excluded on the basis of donations he admittedly made to an organization supporting known terrorist groups in direct violation of a specific provision of our immigration statute," Judge Crotty writes. "It would be inappropriate to reach the constitutional merits of any other immigration provisions...."

The argument used against Ramadan has been called unfair and deceptive by many academic groups. He gave money to a Swiss charity between 1998 and 2002, and that group in turn provided some support to Hamas. While the Bush administration barred support for the Swiss charity after the period in which Ramadan donated, the organization was (and is) completely legal in Switzerland, where Ramadan is a citizen. He has testified that he did not know any of the donation could be used inappropriately, but the judge -- applying the standards giving leeway to consular decisions -- said none of that mattered.

"Today’s decision is both legally wrong and deeply unjust. Professor Ramadan -- like many other critics of U.S. foreign policy -- is being excluded not because of his actions, but because of his ideas. In our view, the government’s stated reason for excluding him is just a pretext," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement. "The court should have subjected the government’s evidence to meaningful scrutiny, but instead it allowed the government to bar Ramadan from the country without any evidence at all. The result of this decision is that foreign scholars will continue to be barred from the United States solely because of their speech. That’s a very sad thing not just for the excluded scholars but for the many U.S. citizens and residents who want to meet with them and hear their views."

The ACLU sued the government over the visa denial and was joined in the case by the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center.

Ramadan, who accepted a position at the University of Oxford after he was unable to accept the Notre Dame position, is one of the most prominent European thinkers about Islam. He is known for encouraging Muslims to consider a “third path” between isolating themselves from Western society or fully assimilating within it. He has repeatedly criticized both Muslim terrorist groups and U.S. policies in the Middle East, and especially the invasion of Iraq.

Despite the current controversy, Ramadan has visited the United States many times — primarily to participate in scholarly meetings. He was poised to move with his family to Indiana three years ago to accept the position at Notre Dame when his visa was revoked just days before his departure. He was told he could apply for another visa and Notre Dame did so on his behalf, only to have that request languish without any explanation. When that visa failed to materialize, Ramadan had to tell Notre Dame that he could not accept the position, prompting the State Department to assert in the legal case that it wasn’t denying Ramadan a visa to teach at Notre Dame because he had withdrawn his acceptance of the position there. That in turn led to the litigation.

Ramadan maintains a Web site with some of his articles and information about his work.

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