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Blacklist Revisited? Reform That Troubles : America needs no protection from foreign ideas

October 17, 1991

America's victory in the Cold War may not soon pay a peace dividend in dollars, but with a little effort it could pay a dividend in liberty.

Since the early 1950s one school of American political thought has maintained, in effect, "You're either with us or you're against us." To this school, almost all political dissidents have been dupes of the international communist conspiracy. Whatever the past justification for this kind of thinking, there is no justification for it now. The communist conspiracy has collapsed. Nobody is left to do the duping.

Unfortunately, some of the laws born of Cold War anxiety and the conspiratorial view of political dissent continue to restrict American liberty. It is high time to revoke or revise these laws.

A case in point is the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, a legacy of the McCarthy era, enacted (even then) over a veto, by President Harry S. Truman. McCarran-Walter permitted the creation of an "alien blacklist" of foreigners whose views were unacceptable to the U.S. government.

In 1952, there were fewer than 800 names on the list. Over the years, however, the list grew; and after the election of Ronald Reagan, perhaps for technical as much as political reasons, it exploded. Of the 320,000 names now in the State Department's Automated Visa Lookout System, 70% have been added since 1980, 15% since George Bush was elected.

Among those denied visas for ideological or political reasons in years past were Nobel laureates Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Notable figures barred more recently--not because of security risk but because of the unacceptability of their political views--were Daniel Ortega, former president of Nicaragua, and Yassir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Last month, the Senate and House, with the support of the Bush Administration, each approved legislation calling on the State Department to purge its list of names added for ideological reasons. Unfortunately, the list is expected to live on.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service would not be required to purge its own list, which closely resembles the State Department's. And the State Department list would retain the arbitrary exclusion criteria "terrorism" and "foreign policy."

The "terrorism" criterion is worded in such a way that it could be invoked against anyone who had served in a resistance movement, however well justified. The "foreign policy" criterion would mean, obviously, whatever the incumbent Administration wanted it to mean.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City)--the sponsors of the anti-blacklist legislation, now being cleared by a joint congressional committee--are to be commended for initiating a long-overdue reform, but the reform does not go far enough.

We urge Congress to close its obvious loopholes before voting it into law. All nations properly retain the power to exclude undesirable aliens. What we challenge is not exclusion as such but the political test for exclusion. If that test is thrown out the front door, it must not be readmitted at the back.

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