To the Editors:
The recent State Department liberalization which will allow aliens who would be barred from visiting this country to pass through on their way to another country is a commendable but insufficient step toward a reasonable policy regarding visas. This action will prevent a repetition of the patently absurd Fuentes case of last February, but it perpetuates the seemingly illogical and unjust regulations which govern temporary visits to this country.
This latter policy can be illustrated by referring to a case of this spring. Several US colleges and universities wished jointly to invite a prominent Czech student, Jan Kavan, to come to this country on a lecture tour. He had been admitted to the US in the past, with no resultant trouble, and was eager to come again. Nevertheless, Mr. Kavan, after much delay, was denied a visa.
This action was taken under Section 212(a) of the Immigration Law, which excludes the temporary admission of aliens suspected of advocating Communism or other such doctrines, unless a waiver is granted by the Justice Department and the State Department. Since Mr. Kavan is a member of the Czech Communist party (as are almost all prominent Czech reformers), he could be denied the necessary waiver, even though a similar waiver had been granted him in the past. It is not the policy of the State or Justice departments to give any explanation for this denial. Since Mr. Kavan was not given any explanation he could not of course know how to strengthen his application the next time.
In my view, a policy which can be applied in this way is, at best, written too broadly and administered with far too great a degree of discretion. It may be that Section 212(a) ought to be revoked completely by Congress, as was requested by a petition presented at the National Book Award ceremony in March. If kept, the law ought to be rewritten so as to differentiate more effectively between a genuinely dangerous alien and an East European reformer coming on a speaking trip. If the waiver system is necessarily perpetuated in this rewriting, the reasons for a denial such as Mr. Kavan received should have to be made public.
The present system of secrecy offends basic principles of justice, under which the accused must be informed of the charges against him and have the opportunity to answer them. The present system also allows officials to operate in secret, when their actions should be open to public criticism, which might expose misconceptions of political realities and of the purpose of government in a free country. The recent liberalization, achieved through the protests of intellectuals and responsible officials such as Senator Fulbright, is only a first step toward a reasonable and just visa policy. Further reforms are needed to prevent a recurrence of the shabby treatment given Mr. Kavan.
Edward A. Stettner
Assistant Professor of Political Science
October 9, 1969