Advertisement

U.S. Blacklist Outlives the Cold War

October 06, 1991|ASHLEY DUNN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A legacy of the McCarthy era--a secret government list of 320,000 foreigners barred from this country because of their political beliefs--is making a tenacious fight to survive in the dawning of the New World Order.

Derided by critics as the "Alien Blacklist," it was created during the feverish anti-communist crusades of the 1950s to identify and exclude foreigners whose beliefs were deemed unacceptable by the government.

In what has been hailed as a significant step toward dismantling this vestige of the McCarthy era, Congress ordered the State Department last month to purge the names of thousands of foreigners from its list, which has been used in the past to bar entry to such notables as Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

But despite the ensuing flurry of pronouncements hailing the end of the Cold War, the list is far from dead.

Instead of the blacklist being dismantled, critics say, its focus has only been shifted away from the disappearing communist threat to new ideological demons of the modern age.

In one omission, Congress failed to order the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to purge its list of excludable foreigners, which closely resembles the State Department's list.

Despite the removal of communists, anarchists and others, thousands will remain on the list under new, broadly worded categories for "terrorists" and "foreign policy" risks.

"The horrible answer is that while we are fond of noting the end of the Cold War, it still exists," said Arthur C. Helton, director of the refugee project for the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Defenders of the list say that legislative efforts have modernized the exclusion laws and pared away much of the vague wording that left it open to abuse.

"It's a better provision that's more precise and updates our views on new threats, such as how to deal with terrorism," said David Simcox, director of the conservative, Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.

Simcox added that while he supported restricting ideological grounds for exclusion, every government has a right to set its own standards to bar foreigners.

"There is no implied or stated right for anyone to enter this country," he said. "Sure, this list has been used for political purposes, and it will continue to be."

The ideological exclusion is based on the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, which besides banning the entry of criminals, spies, prostitutes, Nazis, polygamists and the insane, codified the exclusion of political undesirables--specifically anarchists and communists.

The act not only barred those based on their actual membership in anarchist or communist organizations, but also those who had shown some connection with the communist cause through their writings, statements or associations--all activities that any citizen could freely participate in because of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Although a product of the McCarthy era, ideological exclusion laws have found their greatest expression in just the past decade.

From less than 800 names recorded in 1952, the list of ideologically excludable foreigners in the State Department's Automated Visa Lookout System reached 320,000 at one point last year, with more than 70% of the names having been added since 1980, according to a computer Hanalysis by the Lawyers Committee.

According to the Lawyers Committee analysis, the largest group is from China, followed by those from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Hungary.

The total AVLOS list contains 2.7 million names, including criminals, prostitutes, former Nazis and others. The list is secret--none of the names have ever been officially released.

The vast majority of people are included because of information on their health, criminal background or political affiliations that they themselves supplied to the government when applying for a visa to the United States. Others also have been added by government officials who have knowledge of an individual's background.

Over the years, the list has been used to bar a variety of ideological "undesirables," such as actor Yves Montand, former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and even a Canadian trade unionist named James Hunter, who was stopped from entering the country because he had once played baseball in a communist-sponsored youngsters' league.

Also caught in its web has been a bewildering collection of undistinguished and ordinary people. For instance, the Lawyers Committee found 316 people who were less than a year old when they were deemed ideologically excludable, presumably because of their parents' activities.

"I would think there are a lot of people who don't even know that they are listed," Helton said.

Prompted by the crumbling of communism and increasing publicity over the exclusion of notable visitors, Congress began to dismantle the McCarran-Walter Act in 1987.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|