Groups Request Review of Visa Denial

3/24 Update: A U.S. Embassy today granted acclaimed Afghan human rights activist and former MP Malalai Joya, a visa, a little over a week after she was initially turned down

March 21, 2011

Contacts:
Rachel Levinson, AAUP 
Rachel Myers, ACLU
Larry Siems, PEN

New York –  The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Civil Liberties Union, and PEN American Center today sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressing concern over the denial of a visa to Afghan politician, writer and human rights activist Malalai Joya.

Joya was denied a visa to visit the United States for a three-week speaking tour relating to the paperback edition of her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords. Joya toured the U.S. last year in connection with the release of the hardcover edition of the book. Last year, Joya was named to the “TIME 100” list, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Foreign Policy magazine named Joya one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”

In 2010, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh wrote that, in assessing whether to grant a visa, the State Department would “give significant and sympathetic weight to the fact that the primary purpose of the visa applicant’s travel will be to assume a university teaching post, to fulfill speaking engagements, to attend academic conferences, or for similar expressive or educational activities.”

According to today’s letter, “[t]he factors that Mr. Koh outlined in his letter weigh in favor of granting a waiver to Ms. Joya…. Ms. Joya has an extraordinary story and a great deal to add to the ongoing discussion about the lives of the Afghan people, women in particular, about the current political and social realities in her country, and about the wisdom and success of American diplomatic and military efforts in Afghanistan. Americans should not be denied the chance to meet with her, to hear her speak, and to engage her in debate.”

About the visa denial, AAUP president Cary Nelson says,“Do I think that American audiences might welcome an opportunity to talk to the first female member of the Afghanistan parliament, a woman who is on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world?” Unsurprisingly, my answer is a emphatic ‘yes.’ The decision to bar Malalai Joya from entering the country is embarrassing, foolish, and assault on academic freedom and free speech. It should be immediately reversed.”

More information about ideological exclusion and the full text of the letter is below and available online.

March 21, 2011

Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Hon. Janet Napolitano
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano,

We are writing to express our deep concern about the reported denial of a visa to Afghan politician, writer, and human rights activist Malalai Joya.  Ms. Joya is an important figure in Afghan politics and a leader of the Afghan women’s rights movement, and Americans should not be denied the opportunity to meet with her in person and to hear her speak.   We urge you to issue her a visa that would allow her to visit the United States.

We understand that Ms. Joya has been denied a B visa that would have allowed her to visit the United States for a three-week speaking tour relating to the paperback edition of her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords.  It is our understanding that Ms. Joya has already toured widely in connection with the hardcover edition of this book, travelling without difficulty to the United States last year and to countries including Australia, the UK, Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands.  She is, as you must know, an internationally recognized and acclaimed voice from a country where women are frequently endangered simply for seeking to speak out and to lead. Because of her harsh criticism of Afghan warlords, Ms. Joya has been the target of several assassination attempts in Afghanistan, and she has been forced to live in hiding.  In recent years, she has become a vocal critic of the Karzai government and of the American-led war effort against the Taliban.  Last year, TIME magazine named Ms. Joya to its “TIME 100” list, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.  Foreign Policy Magazine named Ms. Joya one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”

When she was in the United States last year, Ms. Joya spoke to American audiences about her own experiences in Afghanistan, including her experiences as the first woman elected to the Afghan parliament, and about the ongoing conflict in her country, and we expect she would do the same this year.  We are not aware of any reason why Ms. Joya would have been deemed inadmissible to the United States since her last visit. 

If you have concluded that she is inadmissible, however, we urge you to use your authority to waive inadmissibility.  As you may recall, the undersigned organizations were among those that wrote to Secretary Clinton in February 2010 asking that the State Department take steps to ensure that the immigration laws do not unwarrantedly become barriers to the free exchange of ideas across international borders.  In a constructive response to that letter, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh wrote in a December 2010 letter that, in assessing whether to recommend a waiver of inadmissibility, the State Department would consider “the recent nature and seriousness of the activity or condition causing the visa inadmissibility, the reasons for the proposed travel, and the positive or negative effects, if any, of the planned travel on U.S. public interests.”  Mr. Koh also wrote: “In evaluating the reasons for the proposed travel, the Department will give significant and sympathetic weight to the fact that the primary purpose of the visa applicant’s travel will be to assume a university teaching post, to fulfill speaking engagements, to attend academic conferences, or for similar expressive or educational activities.”

The factors that Mr. Koh outlined in his letter weigh in favor of granting a waiver to Ms. Joya. Ms. Joya seeks to enter the United States in order to speak to American audiences.  She has already scheduled speaking engagements in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California.  Moreover, Ms. Joya has an extraordinary story and a great deal to add to the ongoing discussion about the lives of the Afghan people, women in particular, about the current political and social realities in her country, and about the wisdom and success of American diplomatic and military efforts in Afghanistan.  Americans should not be denied the chance to meet with her, to hear her speak, and to engage her in debate.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union
American Association of University Professors
PEN American Center

cc: Harold Koh, Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State
 Janice L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary, DOS Bureau of Consular Affairs
 Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director, DOS Policy Planning Staff
 Scott Busby, Director for Multilateral Affairs, National Security Council
 Kelly Ryan, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Border
  Security, DHS (Office of Policy)
 John R. Sandweg, Counselor to the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary,
  DHS (Office of the Secretary)
 Esther Olavarria, Counselor to the Secretary, DHS
 Gary Grindler, Acting Deputy Attorney General, DOJ

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 48,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Media Contact: 
Rachel Levinson
Publication Date: 
Monday, March 21, 2011