NEW YORK — It was very much the Beat Era, and Margaret Randall, as she looks back now, was very much a child of her generation.
Beatniks, it will be remembered, were those avant-garde humans, those proudly unself-conscious noncomformists, who preceded hippies. Hippies made a point of disdaining law and conventional order. Beatniks merely ignored such trivialities.
Papers, for example. Official documents, pieces of paper with large, imposing-sounding words, convoluted pronouncements with many \o7 heretofores\f7 and \o7 henceforths\f7 .
Papers. "We just didn't think much about papers," Randall said. Beatniks operated with a "strange naivete," she said, "a kind of rejection of things backed by papers."
It was in that same oblivious-to-anything-official spirit that Randall, then 31, said she relinquished her American citizenship and became a citizen of Mexico. Now, 18 years later, Randall is seeking to reclaim, if not her actual U.S. citizenship, then at least the right to remain in this country permanently.
The government feels Randall should be denied those privileges, and has, in fact, ordered Randall deported. "She has failed to show that she is clearly and beyond a reasonable doubt entitled to the benefits for which she has applied," A. H. Guigni, the assistant district director of immigration and naturalization in El Paso, where Randall's petition for permanent residency was considered, wrote in rejecting Randall's request. In taking that position, Guigni was exercising what is known as discretionary authority. Said Guigni: Randall's "activities for the last 20 years" and her 40 books "go far beyond mere dissent, disagreement with or criticism of the United States or its policies."
Opposed to Administration
To which Randall replies: "I know that many of the opinions expressed in my books are diametrically opposed to the opinions of the Reagan Administration. I was under the impression that one could hold differing opinions in this country."
Now married to an American poet, Floyce Alexander, Randall is living in New Mexico and teaching women's and American studies at the University of New Mexico. She adds: "I think there are a lot of things involved. I think they are punishing me for giving up my citizenship--and I think it is because I am a feminist. I can't help but think that, that they hate us."
"The reason she has a problem is that she voluntarily relinquished her citizenship," Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Duke Austin said from his office in Washington. "The thing people have a hard time understanding is that nobody took her citizenship away from her. She gave it up."
And "once you give that citizenship up," Austin said, "it's not something you can regain willy-nilly."
Still, some of Randall's students and colleagues have joined with the PEN American Center as well as writers Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Alice Walker, Grace Paley, William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut, in filing a suit in Randall's behalf against Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and INS official Guigni and Commissioner Allen C. Nelson. The plaintiffs contend their constitutional right to associate with and exchange information with Randall has been violated by the INS' refusal to grant Randall permanent residency in the United States.
Brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights here, the suit further suggests the denial of Randall's permanent residency request is "part of a larger policy and practice, by which the defendants have improperly used their authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to shape and limit political debate within the United States."
"For Margaret," center attorney David Cole said, "the INS action is punishment, but I see it as a sort of blind ideological action."
A native New Yorker, Randall moved with her family to the Southwest in 1946 when she was 10. At 21, Randall, then "very much a beatnik," was ready to strike out on her own. She headed to New York, determined to be a writer.
Like virtually all such aspiring scribes, Randall worked odd jobs--in the garment district, as a waitress and so forth. On her own time, Randall was "doing poetry." About that time, "I began to take myself seriously as a writer."
In 1960, the unmarried Randall gave birth to a son, Gregory. "It was very difficult," Randall remembered. "There was no support system, no day care."
Randall began thinking there must be an easier way. For some reason, she decided Mexico was the answer. "I felt somehow Mexico would be an easier place. I thought it took less to live there," she said. "It was probably a romantic idea, but it was partly the truth." Randall packed up 10-month-old Gregory and headed south of the border.
Soon thereafter, romance crept into Randall's ideal. Quite shortly after she arrived in Mexico, Randall met, fell in love with and married Sergio Mondragon, a Mexican poet.