Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has sued the federal Homeland Security Department in an effort to bring a Bolivian professor to the state.

The university filed the lawsuit Friday in federal court. It states that immigration officials should consider the visa petition of Waskar Ari. Ari was hired in June 2005 by UNL to teach courses on Latin American history. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln lawsuit claims the Homeland Security Department has not offered an explanation for why it did not grant Ari's request for an H1-B form -- a visa that allows foreign non-immigrants with bachelor's degrees or higher to work for U.S. institutions.

The American Historical Association weighed in earlier in February:

On February 13, 2006, the American Historical Association (AHA) sent a letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security expressing concern over the plight of Dr. Waskar Ari, a member of the Aymara indigenous people of Bolivia and an authority on religious beliefs and political activism among indigenous Bolivians, who has been prevented from taking up his post as assistant professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because he has been placed on a list of individuals under “conspicuous revision”—that is, he is being subjected to extensive background checks due to alleged security concerns.

The AHA is committed to fostering historical research and instruction unencumbered by government restrictions that could infringe on academic freedom and intellectual exchange. While recognizing that there may be individuals who pose a genuine security risk and for whom there are legitimate reasons to delay the granting of an H-1B visa, the association notes that in Dr. Ari’s case that there are no perceptible grounds for such treatment. Under such circumstances, a fine scholar whose only apparent offense is his indigenous identity could be permanently excluded from U.S. academia. The AHA appealed to the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider the decision to subject Dr. Ari to conspicuous revision, and asked that he be granted the visa requested by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dr. Ari earned his Ph.D. in history at Georgetown University in the fall of 2004. He has served as a consultant on social and economic issues confronting the Aymara community with various organizations (the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank) in the Washington area, and has also been a visiting assistant professor at Western Michigan University and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas. Upon completion of his doctoral degree, he was offered the position in History and Ethnic Studies at Nebraska, so that he could begin teaching in the fall of 2005.

“It would have to be unimaginable circumstances for someone from Bolivia to be classified as a security risk,” says Barbara Weinstein, the president-elect of the American Historical Association. “It seems, on the face of it, to be absurd ... they should either give us the facts or give him a visa.”

Peter Levitov, the associate dean of international affairs and the university’s special counsel on immigration, has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to learn the reason for the delay. The silence leads him to believe the hold-up is security related.

“We can’t do anything about it now except wait,” Levitov said last month. “The more time passes, the more it becomes clear he’s not going to be able to come here.

“That’s very disappointing to the university and surely very disappointing to him.”

A letter from the American Association of University Professors stated:

We see a troubling pattern emerging in which foreign scholars offered appointments at American universities or invited to attend academic conferences are prevented from entering the United States because of their perceived political beliefs or associations. Professor Ari's case and earlier ones—they include the 2004 case of Professor Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who was appointed to a faculty position at the University of Notre Dame, and in the same year the case of 65 Cuban scholars who had been scheduled to participate in an international conference sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association that was held in Las Vegas -- point to a disturbing disregard on the part of the Bush administration for our society's commitment to academic freedom.

Meanwhile, Ari, who has also taught at Georgetown University and Western Michigan University, has been waiting in Bolivia, hoping his application will be accepted. He has taken a job as a realtor in the meantime to pay for his bills.

"I came to Bolivia for about 10 days, and I am waiting almost two years [now]," Ari said in an email.

The following comes from the Progressive web site.

University of Nebraska Sues Chertoff
By Matthew Rothschild

You may have heard about Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan being banned from the University of Notre Dame by the Bush Administration. Well, here’s another example of the Bush Administration’s hostility to the First Amendment and xenophobia about foreign scholars.

Waskar Ari is a Bolivian historian who got his doctorate at Georgetown.

A scholar of indigenous people, Ari came to the attention of the University of Nebraska, which has a specialty in this subject. The university decided to hire him as an assistant professor in the departments of history and ethnic studies, and he was supposed to teach there from August 15, 2005, to May 16, 2008.

But he’s never taught a single class because the Department of Homeland Security has sat on the paperwork needed for his visa.

On June 13, 2005, the University of Nebraska filed a petition that Ari would need before he himself could apply for a visa. That petition, called an “H-1B,” is standard for employers who want to hire a foreign professional. The university also applied for expedited processing, and submitted the $1,000 fee, which entitled the university to a response within 15 days.

The university is still waiting, 22 months later.

On March 31, 2006, more than 9 months after filing the petition, the university received a letter from the Nebraska office of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. The office, it said, “is unable to meet the 15-day requirement,” which was quite obvious by then. Its explanation: “The referenced case is undergoing security checks and is awaiting review and clearance.” (The office returned the $1,000 check.)

Almost a year later and with still no decision, the University of Nebraska on March 2 filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and its head, Michael Chertoff, along with Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and F. Gerard Heinauer, who is in charge of the Nebraska office.

The university is not seeking monetary damages. All it wants is Homeland Security to stop “unlawfully withholding or unreasonably delaying action” on its petition for Waskar Ari.

The suit says that the stalling on this petition “prevents Dr. Ari from teaching and speaking within the United States and, most importantly, prevents United States citizens and residents—including students and academic colleagues—from attending classes taught by Dr. Ari or otherwise meeting with Dr. Ari to engage in discussion and hear his views, in violation of these citizens’ and residents’ First Amendment rights.”

Marilu Cabrera, is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “We do not comment on pending litigation,” she says. But she adds: “I’m familiar with the case. We are currently processing it. We’re working on responding to any outstanding issues.”

The lawsuit argues that Homeland Security has no authority to investigate security allegations during the employer’s petition stage. In any event, Waskar Ari on August 14, 2006, sent a statement to the department of Homeland Security addressing any perceived security issues.

Here’s what Ari wrote: “I have never had any connection with terrorism, terrorist organizations, or organizations that support terrorism in any way, and I am adamantly opposed to terrorism and terrorists no matter what.”

The University of Nebraska remains anxious for Ari to get clearance.

“We want him to come,” says Peter Levitov, the associate dean of international affairs for the University of Nebraska. “We’ve waited two full academic years for him. And if we thought he would not eligible to enter the United States, we would not have offered him the position. Nothing has come to our attention since we offered it that would make us withdraw it.”

Ari still is eager to teach at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “I very much want to take my job at UNL,” he writes me by e-mail. “I am fighting against my permanent exclusion from U.S. academia.”

He says this episode with Homeland Security has broadened his field of vision.

“I had to assimilate this long delay,” he writes, “and I think I have a larger mission to work on in life. I should work more in promoting international understanding.”

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