By Ruth Conniff
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March 10, 2007
You may have heard about Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan being banned from the University of Notre Dame by the Bush Administration. Well, here’s another example of the Bush Administration’s hostility to the First Amendment and xenophobia about foreign scholars.
Waskar Ari is a Bolivian historian who got his doctorate at Georgetown.
A scholar of indigenous people, Ari came to the attention of the University of Nebraska, which has a specialty in this subject. The university decided to hire him as an assistant professor in the departments of history and ethnic studies, and he was supposed to teach there from August 15, 2005, to May 16, 2008.
But he’s never taught a single class because the Department of Homeland Security has sat on the paperwork needed for his visa.
On June 13, 2005, the University of Nebraska filed a petition that Ari would need before he himself could apply for a visa. That petition, called an “H-1B,” is standard for employers who want to hire a foreign professional. The university also applied for expedited processing, and submitted the $1,000 fee, which entitled the university to a response within 15 days.
The university is still waiting, 22 months later.
On March 31, 2006, more than 9 months after filing the petition, the university received a letter from the Nebraska office of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. The office, it said, “is unable to meet the 15-day requirement,” which was quite obvious by then. Its explanation: “The referenced case is undergoing security checks and is awaiting review and clearance.” (The office returned the $1,000 check.)
Almost a year later and with still no decision, the University of Nebraska on March 2 filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and its head, Michael Chertoff, along with Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and F. Gerard Heinauer, who is in charge of the Nebraska office.
The university is not seeking monetary damages. All it wants is Homeland Security to stop “unlawfully withholding or unreasonably delaying action” on its petition for Waskar Ari.
The suit says that the stalling on this petition “prevents Dr. Ari from teaching and speaking within the United States and, most importantly, prevents United States citizens and residents—including students and academic colleagues—from attending classes taught by Dr. Ari or otherwise meeting with Dr. Ari to engage in discussion and hear his views, in violation of these citizens’ and residents’ First Amendment rights.”
Marilu Cabrera, is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We do not comment on pending litigation,” she says. But she adds: “I’m familiar with the case. We are currently processing it. We’re working on responding to any outstanding issues.”
The lawsuit argues that Homeland Security has no authority to investigate security allegations during the employer’s petition stage. In any event, Waskar Ari on August 14, 2006, sent a statement to the department of Homeland Security addressing any perceived security issues.
Here’s what Ari wrote: “I have never had any connection with terrorism, terrorist organizations, or organizations that support terrorism in any way, and I am adamantly opposed to terrorism and terrorists no matter what.”
The University of Nebraska remains anxious for Ari to get clearance.
“We want him to come,” says Peter Levitov, the associate dean of international affairs for the University of Nebraska. “We’ve waited two full academic years for him. And if we thought he would not be eligible to enter the United States, we would not have offered him the position. Nothing has come to our attention since we offered it that would make us withdraw it.”
Ari still is eager to teach at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “I very much want to take my job at UNL,” he writes me by e-mail. “I am fighting against my permanent exclusion from U.S. academia.”
He says this episode with Homeland Security has broadened his field of vision.
“I had to assimilate this long delay,” he writes, “and I think I have a larger mission to work on in life. I should work more in promoting international understanding.”