Friday, October 14, 2016

Have you heard of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952?

It was a surprise to me, thirteen years ago (and "surprised is quite an understatement), to receive death threats for having the audacity to question, in a public forum, the wisdom of attacking a country without just cause, on the basis of unproven claims of a threat (which turned out not to exist).

I was surprised, again, when I called the FBI detachment near the threatener's home in Cedartown, Georgia, and was told, "Mr. Auids, our country is at war, and we must all be willing to give up our freedoms for national security."   I was astonished at that response, and I told the young FBI agent that that was not how I understood my rights as an American.  "If young American men and American women are supposed to be dying to defend our liberty, then what kind of a coward would I be to give those liberties up, without hesitation, because of my fear?"  He did not understand.  Few people did, thirteen years ago.  

I was surprised, recently, to learn that Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prior to becoming Prime Minister of Canada in 1968, was blacklisted in the 1950's by the United States and prevented from entering that country because of a visit he had made to a conference in Moscow, and because he subscribed to a number of left-wing publications.  Trudeau was not considered a security risk; he was prevented from entering the country because of his beliefs.   It was his ideas that the US government was afraid of.  Think Stalinist Russia, the East German Stasi, or North Korea under Kim Jong-un.  

Trudeau was banned under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 which, while sponsored by two Democrats, was strongly opposed, by President Harry Truman, whose veto of the bill was overridden.  The bill, which was designed, ostensibly, to remove racist discrimination from US immigration statutes, replaced race with ideology as a basis of discrimination, as a way of keeping Communist ideas out of the country. It was Americans' way of keeping ideas they feared out of the country.  Now, 60 years later, we're seeing fear driving calls for new immigration restrictions, based again on ideology.  I'm pretty darned confident that the majority of Americans will find their way back to the traditional values of the nation, but fear will often make people act in irrational, shameful ways. 

Truman's objection to the bill, which was designed to block immigration from Eastern European countries (Soviet bloc) was that it was unAmerican in its departure from the traditional American position of offering refuge to those who who were fleeing tyranny and oppression.  America was supposed to be a different, better, place.  Because fear of ideas was not an American trait.  

The McCarran-Walter Act is still on the books, although the provisions have been softened somewhat.  Restrictions based on political opinions for temporary immigration were revoked by the Immigration Act of 1990; however, those restrictions can still be applied to those seeking to permanently relocate to the United States.

In an appearance before a House of Representatives subcommittee held in 2005, author Larry McMurtry (who wrote Lonesome Dove), representing PEN America (a literary journal which advocates for the freedom of expression in journalism), said:

An objective look at the laws that govern the flow of people and information across our borders reveal some serious shortcomings in this regard. One of the most glaring examples of our failure to consistently and fully protect First Amendment rights is the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act whose ideological-exclusion provisions—still in effect for those who seek to reside here permanently—are an affront to all who cherish
the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and association. To a writer whose living depends upon the uninhibited interchange of ideas and experiences, these provisions are especially appalling.
January 3, 2005 
Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and Administrative Justice of the House Judiciary Committee

For the record, after being banned from entering the United States, Pierre Elliot Trudeau appealed that ban and it was rescinded.

A word to the unwise. 
Torch every book. 
Char every page. 
Burn every word to ash. 
Ideas are incombustible. 
And therein lies your real fear.  
– Ellen Hopkins