Waskar Ari: University sues Homeland Security to give him a visa

Historians in the News

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has sued the Department of Homeland Security in a ramped-up effort to bring a long-awaited hire to the United States.

UNL filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court asking a judge demand federal officials to consider the visa petition of Waskar Ari, a Bolivian professor hired by UNL in 2005 to teach courses on Latin American history.

Ari has been stuck at home in La Paz for nearly two years as officials stall approval of his work visa for security-related concerns.

His Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Michael Maggio, believes the delay may be thanks to a mistaken suggestion Ari is linked to Bolivian president Evo Morales, a frequent and harsh critic of the Bush administration.

Maggio, also one of two lawyers representing UNL in its lawsuit, says the idea is “preposterous.” And he’s not convinced homeland security officials were even authorized to conduct such an extensive background check on Ari — hence the basis for the suit....


Washington, DC – The First Amendment, academic freedom, and an unlawful approach to background checks for foreign academics are at the heart of the lawsuit filed on March 2, 2007 by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (“UNL”) against the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The suit, a complaint for writ of mandamus, seeks to compel the DHS to act on an H-1B employment visa petition that UNL filed 22 months ago on behalf of Dr. Waskar Ari, a Bolivian historian whom the university seeks to hire as an Assistant Professor of History and Ethnic Studies. Professor Ari, a member of the Aymara indigenous group of Bolivia, is an expert on the history of indigenous peoples, particularly in his native Bolivia, where populist indigenous President Evo Morales is viewed with suspicion by the Bush Administration. Professor Ari’s appointment was to commence in August 2005; UNL’s H-1B petition was filed under a DHS procedure that guarantees a decision within 15 business days. However, the University’s visa petition for Professor Ari has been pending for unspecified “security checks” – seemingly delayed indefinitely – since June 2005.

The American Historical Association, one of many national and international organizations that have urged the U.S. Government to issue the visa, laments that Professor Ari, “a fine scholar whose only apparent offense is his indigenous identity could be permanently excluded from U.S. academia.” These concerns over the chill imposed on academic freedom by the DHS’s conduct are echoed by numerous others. Professor Ari, who received his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in Washington, DC in May 2005, travelled to Bolivia for what he thought was a temporary visit because he expected to return in a few weeks to begin teaching at UNL. Instead, he remains in Bolivia, unable to even apply for his H-1B visa at the U.S. Consulate in La Paz. In the meantime, UNL, its faculty, and its students are deprived of Professor Ari’s unique contributions as a teacher, researcher, and colleague.

The lawsuit filed by UNL alleges that background checks being conducted by the DHS are not authorized by law. The suit contends that the only issue in this particular H-1B petition is whether UNL, the petitioner, has satisfied the requirements to classify Professor Ari as an eligible recipient of H-1B status. The lawsuit further alleges that the DHS lacks authority to withhold or delay action on UNL’s petition. Moreover, even assuming the DHS does have such authority, UNL maintains that 22 months is more than sufficient time to conclude background checks on a Bolivian academic who seeks merely to teach in the United States.

Professor Ari is one of a growing number of foreign scholars whose visas have been revoked or whose applications have been denied or delayed, thus barring their entry into the U.S. based on their ideology or political views. The highest profile case is that of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar whose visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame was revoked by the government in 2004. When Ramadan applied for a visa that would have allowed him to enter the U.S. for speaking engagements and the government failed to act on it, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other organizations, filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s inaction. Ultimately, a federal judge ordered the government to act on his visa request.

The ACLU is tracking many cases, including Professor Ari’s, in which it believes foreign nationals have been banned from entering the United States owing to their beliefs. Although the government rarely gives a reason for these exclusions, the ACLU reports that many exclusions appear ideologically-motivated and that academics increasingly are being interrogated about their political beliefs when they apply for visas. In this instance, Professor Ari may be wrongly linked to the indigenous movement led by Bolivian President Evo Morales. A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the first Indian President of Bolivia, Morales also is an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration’s policies in the region.

The case is University of Nebraska v. Chertoff, et al., Case No. 1:07-cv-421, and was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. UNL is represented in this action by attorneys Michael Maggio and Thomas Ragland of Maggio & Kattar in Washington, D.C. Copies of the complaint and exhibits are available from Maggio & Kattar.

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The University of Nebraska at Lincoln is a state land-grant university and is Nebraska’s primary research and doctoral degree-granting institution.

See: http://www.unl.edu/history

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