This statement was originally published on pen.org on 10 November 2020.
Lawyer and historian Julia Rose Kraut has long been examining America’s history of ideological exclusion and instituting laws and practices that bar or deport visitors or immigrants based on their beliefs or their expression. Her new book, Threat of Dissent, tells this dark parallel American history, and within the text, she unpacks how that history intersects with that of PEN America. Julia joined us on The PEN Pod to discuss writing her new book, tracing the history of ideological exclusion and deportation, and PEN America’s own history in defending freedom of expression.
I’m not sure a lot of people know this history of ideological exclusion and deportation, and that it’s been a part of American history since the 18th century. Give us a sense of what this historical arc looks like.
What I mean by ideological exclusion deportation is exclusion deportation based on political beliefs, associations, and expressions. I began this history by tracing it back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which you may have heard of – and the Alien Friends Act, which doesn’t get a lot of attention, but that gave President Adams power to deport anyone he deemed dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. Now, he didn’t deport anyone, which is why you don’t really hear much about the Alien Friends Act – there’s more focus on the Sedition Act – but it was not for a lack of trying, as I explained in my book, and I actually display a blank deportation warrant signed by Adams to be used.
What’s really the focus though is this tremendous absolute power and discretion held by the executive, and that doesn’t go away, that we see again and again – laws passed that give tremendous power to the executive to exclude or deport. I traced this history from 1798, to the War on Terror, and the Trump administration. Through the exclusion of anarchists in the early 20th century, deportations delirium after World War I, the deportation effort of labor leaders and radicals during the Great Depression and into the Cold War and McCarthyism, expanded efforts to exclude, deport, and denaturalize in the 1950s. Those exclusions continue from Nixon to Reagan and during the presidencies of George W. Bush and his father, and now to Trump.
“What’s really the focus though is this tremendous absolute power and discretion held by the executive, and that doesn’t go away, that we see again and again – laws passed that give tremendous power to the executive to exclude or deport. I traced this history from 1798, to the War on Terror, and the Trump administration.”
You write extensively about us and our role in fighting the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act. What was that law in particular, and what role did PEN America play in the fight against certain provisions of it, along with a lot of other people and organizations?
One of the things that I wanted to do and focus in this book, is include a lot of organizations that were challenging ideological exclusion deportation, which were some that you’ve heard of – the American Civil Liberties Union, and then others, like its precursor, the Free Speech League, and organizations like American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, and PEN American Center – now PEN America – was one of these organizations.
In 1952, Congress passes the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is known as the McCarran-Walter Act after its sponsors – Senator Patrick McCarran and Congressmen Francis Walter – and it includes provisions authorizing exclusion and deportation of those who advocated or were a member of organizations that advocated the economic international and governmental doctrines of world communism. This was passed at the height of McCarthyism, and many people become ensnared in this act as well as an act passed two years before – the Internal Security Act of 1950, the McCarran Act, which also has similar provisions. So, this is when I discussed Charlie Chaplin being denied reentry and Graham Green being excluded, as well as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now, these provisions survive through the 1960s and remain on the books to be used by Nixon and then by Reagan.
When PEN America enters, my narrative is in the 1980s during the Reagan administration – PEN had already started to work very hard to get writers and artists into the United States, but became part of this effort to challenge the Reagan administration’s use of this vestige of McCarthyism and to call for appeals of the law. The efforts are led by Congressman Barney Frank, and PEN has a number of events that focus on exclusion of writers and highlighting their work. They testify before Congress and describe the chilling effect on speech and damage to free exchange, communication, and to America’s reputation abroad and the effect on writers like Marquez and Green.
“When PEN America enters, my narrative is in the 1980s during the Reagan administration – PEN had already started to work very hard to get writers and artists into the United States, but became part of this effort to challenge the Reagan administration’s use of this vestige of McCarthyism and to call for appeals of the law.”
Then, I highlight the 1986 PEN International Congress held in New York City, when PEN President Norman Mailer invited Secretary of State George Schultz to be the keynote, and he gave an address, “The Writer and Freedom,” and was greeted with boos and hisses. There’s also a protest letter signed by members of PEN denouncing the State Department’s use of ideological exclusion under the McCarran-Walter Act. So, PEN and Barney Frank are successful, and those provisions are eventually repealed, but ideological exclusion remains in other forms.
I want to talk about that because this is obviously coming up right now. We have this global pandemic where it appears that the Trump administration is using this moment to continue its exclusionary policies on the immigrant front. In some ways, your book makes the case that while certainly, in many ways, the president is an outlier, perhaps in this vein, this is really an extension of this pattern of ideological exclusion. Do you think that’s right, or do you think that Trump and his allies fall outside of that arc?
They’re definitely in it – we’re seeing in the Trump administration that there is a real focus on immigration restriction, which is at the heart of what we’ve seen in the past four years. Ideological exclusion is still a live issue, and organizations – including PEN, the Brennan Center for Justice, Knight First Amendment Institute, the ACLU, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation – have raised concerns about social media and data collection used to exclude at the border, or as part of retaliatory deportation efforts targeting activists. I mentioned some of those cases of using social media to exclude in the book, but when we were discussing surveillance and repression of activists and protest today, ideological exclusion must be part of that conversation as well as immigration reform and looking at the tremendous power and discretion still held by the executive and the judiciary’s deference to the executive in terms of immigration issues. We saw that with the travel ban referred to as the Muslim Ban, and also we saw that addressed in the No Ban Act, that was recently passed by the House of Representatives.
For our point of view, it’s such a clear threat to free expression, especially the social media monitoring piece – because if someone feels that it’s going to jeopardize their ability to travel, to come to conferences, to travel even for leisure or for other reasons, it might have a chilling effect on what they’re willing to write or put out publicly.
Oh absolutely, and that’s one of the concerns.
“We’re seeing in the Trump administration that there is a real focus on immigration restriction, which is at the heart of what we’ve seen in the past four years. Ideological exclusion is still a live issue, and organizations – including PEN, the Brennan Center for Justice, Knight First Amendment Institute, the ACLU, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation – have raised concerns about social media and data collection used to exclude at the border, or as part of retaliatory deportation efforts targeting activists.”
How did you get to this topic? What was the genesis of writing this book?
I can trace the genesis to two decades ago, when I was a college student at Columbia University. I started writing about law and history, doing research on anarchists and anarchist suppression after the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. I was looking at First Amendment and free speech issues in those early years of the 20th century, prior to World War I. I stumbled upon the exclusion of an anarchist, who I mentioned in the book named John Turner, an anarchist from England who’s excluded under the Alien Immigration Act of 1903. This becomes the first ideological exclusion provision and the first exclusion under it.
What I do is I look at that case, and I was fascinated, as a college student, with the intersection of immigration and First Amendment law. When I went to law school and then later got my Ph.D., I continued to do research in this area, especially looking at current parallels with the War on Terror and exclusion of scholars, writers, and artists, and then also tracing this through McCarthyism and through the Nixon and Reagan administrations. I was drawing that line and finding this narrative and this rich history that’s kept me interested for 20 years.
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Source: MEDIA FEED