State Department ready to discard list of politically 'undesirable' aliens

June 14, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has agreed to remove almost all the 250,000 names on a secret list of aliens considered ideologically unacceptable to enter the United States, ending a 40-year practice that has its roots in the McCarthy era.

The action is largely symbolic because a revision of the immigration law last year barred the State Department from excluding an individual because of beliefs, statements or political associations that would be protected under the Constitution for U.S. citizens.

Under last year's law, individuals on the list would have had to apply to have their names removed.

But the measure approved 18-0 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday would require the State Department to take the initiative in purging the list.

The action came on a bill that authorizes the department's policies and spending for the next fiscal year. The House of Representatives has approved a similar measure.

Over the years, the ideological exclusion in the McCarran-Walter immigration act of 1952 had been used

to bar individuals such as Nobel laureates Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda, novelist Graham Greene, actor Yves Montand and naturalist Farley Mowat.

Political leaders who were barred included Ian D. Smith, the former prime minister of Rhodesia; Daniel Ortega Saavedra, former president of Nicaragua; and Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The law also barred thousands of other people who did not know that the list existed, that their names were on it or why.

The list was compiled by State Department officials in Washington and in embassies and consulates around the world, based on information provided by other governments as well as their own observations.

In addition to the 250,000 "political undesirables," the list includes the names of about 100,000 people cited for national security and foreign policy reasons, said Arthur C. Helton, the director of the Lawyers' Committee's Refugee Project, a public interest group committed to the removal of the names.

These people will continue to be listed because they may still be excluded under the immigration law.

Interviewed by telephone from Geneva, Mr. Helton said the list had grown rapidly in the 1980s, to 367,000 names from 100,000, at a time when the Reagan administration was especially hostile to people with left-wing political views.

Of the 367,000, 69 percent were for ideological reasons, he said.

Mr. Helton said another list included the names of more than 3 million criminals, immigration violators, drug traffickers, prostitutes and those with certain health problems. These names will also remain on the list.

The State Department agreed to support the bill after the Senate committee accepted a proviso that would enable the secretary of state to retain an alien's name on the list by certifying that there was a compelling reason to do so, including the individual's statements, beliefs and political associations. The compromise was worked out by the American Civil Liberties Union and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "We've been in agreement pretty much all along," but added, "We can't announce anything until the bill is passed."

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