Bolivian Historian Clears One Hurdle in Path to American Visa

May 04, 2007

Almost two years after the University of Nebraska at Lincoln filed an employment-visa petition for a Bolivian historian it wanted to hire, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has approved it. The move, which comes after the university filed a lawsuit in March seeking to force the department to respond, simply means that the historian, Waskar T. Ari, can now apply for a visa from the State Department to enter the United States.

A university spokeswoman, Kelly H. Bartling, said, “we’re grateful there’s been some movement” in Nebraska’s efforts to hire Mr. Ari, who was educated in the United States, as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies. She added, “it’s been a frustrating process.” Mr. Ari said in an e-mail message that he was “totally optimistic and happy.” He said he would “continue with my cause to arrive to Lincoln sooner or later.”

Mr. Ari, a specialist in the culture and social movements of Latin America’s indigenous peoples, is one of a growing number of foreign scholars who have been denied visas when they sought to enter the United States for academic purposes, like teaching or attending a conference. In Mr. Ari’s case, as in almost all the others, the authorities have given no reasons for denying a visa. Critics say the Bush administration has an unofficial policy of keeping out scholars whose ideas it disagrees with.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Program, welcomed the development, but cautioned that it was still unclear whether the authorities planned to issue Mr. Ari a visa. “I hope it’s not simply a ploy by the government,” he said, to keep a court from ruling on the University of Nebraska’s recent lawsuit. —Burton Bollag