U.S. urged to lift antiterror ban on foreign scholars

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Tariq Ramadan, a respected Swiss academic and Muslim scholar, had a job all lined up at the University of Notre Dame in 2004, but the Bush administration prevented him from entering the country. Government officials said he had contributed to a charity believed to have connections to terrorism.

Now, in a move leading up to that hearing, a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups is calling on the Obama administration to break with the Bush administration’s policies on blocking visas of some foreign scholars, writers and activists.

In a letter being released Wednesday, the coalition says so-called ideological exclusion ‘‘compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important.’’

The government initially barred Mr. Ramadan by invoking a provision of the chief anti-terrorism law, the USA Patriot Act, that allows the authorities to exclude foreigners who use ‘‘a position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.’’ Then, after the suit was filed, the government argued that from 1998 to 2002, Mr. Ramadan contributed about $1,300 to a charity in Switzerland that the Treasury Department later categorized as a terrorist organization. The charity, Association de Secours Palestinien, was a contributor to Hamas.

Barring entry to the United States in similar cases is not new: during the Cold War, the writers Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda and Doris Lessing, among others, were kept out. Congress largely repealed a law allowing ideological exclusion in 1990, but the USA Patriot Act, adopted in 2001 and reauthorized in 2006, permits the government to block entry on anti-terrorism grounds.

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