To head off any confusion about the clash of jurisdictions involved here: the visas that State Department officers issue to foreign nationals overseas allow the traveller to approach a U.S. port of entry and ask to enter the country. A Homeland Security officer actually makes the call on whether the person can enter or not.
"Terror Watch: Row Over Barred Muslim Scholars" - Newsweek (a Web exclusive), 1 November 2006
Nov. 1, 2006 - President Bush’s top emissary for public diplomacy has privately complained that recent moves by the Department of Homeland Security to block prominent Muslim clerics and scholars from entering the United States has damaged her efforts to bolster America’s image in the Islamic world.
In recent weeks, Karen Hughes, under secretary of State for public diplomacy and the president’s former communications adviser, has protested directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that an increase in the number of high-profile “exclusions” of Muslim figures is creating major public-relations problems for the United States overseas.
“There’s no question that some of these incidents have created serious problems for us,” Dan Smith, Hughes’s chief of staff told NEWSWEEK. “She wants to find a way to fix this consistent with national security.”
Hughes’s behind-the-scenes complaints reflect growing tensions between State and Homeland Security officials over an increasingly aggressive no-entry policy that critics say has caused a wave of criticism in the Muslim world even if it has been barely noticed inside the United States....
One recent case that prompted Hughes’s concern—first reported by NEWSWEEK—involved the well-known British Muslim leader, Kamal Helbawy, who was ordered off his American Airlines flight at London's Heathrow Airport on Oct. 18. Helbawy was forced to leave the flight just minutes before he was due to take off for New York, where he was slated to speak at a New York University Law School conference on the Muslim Brotherhood.
The move outraged sponsors of the NYU event, who insisted that Helbawy, although a longtime member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, was a relatively moderate figure in British Islamic circles who has renounced violence and served as an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government. Helbawy was not on a no-fly list maintained by U.S. intelligence agencies of persons deemed to be possible terror threats, according to a senior U.S. counterterrorism official.
That incident was followed within days by two other cases in which well-known South Africans were detained by Homeland Security officials and then removed from the country. One of them, a Muslim academic named Adam Habib, who serves as the director of a South African government-funded research program, had landed in New York last week for a series of scheduled meetings with officials of the World Bank, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health.
Although Habib had traveled to the United States on numerous occasions in recent years and had a multiple-entry visa, the scientist was questioned for more than seven hours and then escorted by armed guards back onto an airplane and flown back to South Africa. Habib, who acknowledged he had once been arrested as a political dissident under South Africa’s former apartheid government but denied any links to terrorism, expressed indignation over his treatment by U.S. authorities. “You can’t just deny someone access to a country and not give any reasons why,” he told The Dispatch newspaper in South Africa. “It’s like you accuse someone, but you don’t tell them what for.”...
A Homeland Security spokesman defended the agency’s actions, telling NEWSWEEK that "we're always going to err on the side of caution and security to secure our borders and protect the homeland.” The spokesman added that Homeland Security and State are working on new procedures to vet those entering the country and offer a streamlined appeals process for those denied entry to the United States.
But regardless of the merits, other senior State Department officials say the high-profile exclusions have created a public-relations nightmare for U.S. diplomats overseas. In the past few days, for example, Habib’s exclusion—barely reported inside the United States—produced a rash of headlines in South Africa. TOP MUSLIM KICKED OUT OF THE US, read the headline in The Dispatch, over the subheadline SEVEN-HOUR ORDEAL IN NEW YORK CASES ANGRY BACKLASH....
"Row Brews as HSRC Demand Answers from US," by Dianne Hawker and Sapa - the Independent Online (iol.co.za) (Cape Town, South Africa), 25 October 2006
The Human Sciences Research Council is demanding an explanation after one of its top officials, Professor Adam Habib, was grilled by US customs officials for seven hours and then kicked out of the country with no explanation.
Habib, a Muslim, is executive director of the Democracy and Governance Research Programme at the HSRC.
Last night he was still mystified as to why his visa was revoked."The first time something like this happened to me was during apartheid, in the struggle days," he said. "I felt it was highly inappropriate and I feel affronted."
His deportation follows a similar incident last Friday, when a senior Gauteng Muslim cleric, Fazlur Rahman Azmi, was also denied entry to the US at San Francisco International Airport....
US customs officials say they are under no obligation to disclose the reason for Habib's deportation.
Speaking from his home in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening, Habib said he was still in the dark as to why his visa had been revoked.
He refused to speculate at this stage and would await an explanation from the US embassy.
He is hoping that the issue is resolved before a conference he is due to attend in the US in July next year....
The Cape Argus [another publication of The Independent Newspaper Company] contacted the US embassy in Johannesburg on Tuesday and was referred to the customs and border patrol division of the department of homeland security in Washington.
According to departmental spokesperson Kelly Klundt her file showed that Habib had been "deemed inadmissible", but she was unable to say why.
The HSRC has requested that Homeland Security supply the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Habib may apply for a US visa again, but may once again be refused entry.
The Embassy in Johannesburg should have handled the Cape Argus query itself rather than referring the caller to Homeland Security in Washington. An embassy official based in South Africa would (should) have been able to appreciate and handle the sensitivities surrounding the visa denial far better than someone in Washington could.