Bleaching a Civil Liberties Stain
SO long to a cold-war dodo. Under bipartisan urging from Congress, the State Department has agreed to remove some 250,000 names from a list of foreigners who are denied entry into the United States because of their political views. The list, created under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, is a relic of the anticommunist frenzy of the early post-war years. It's easy to wax indignant over this international blacklist, one of the corrupt fruits of McCarthyism. But in those days of Soviet betrayals in Eastern Europe, of the Korean War and the Rosenbergs, a lot of Americans besides the senator from Wisconsin were worried about communist threats to American security. President Truman's courageous veto of the act was resoundingly overturned.
Yet the misguided keep-out list was overly broad right from the start. It barred few spies or saboteurs, and lots of politicians, labor leaders, writers, and entertainers whose ideology didn't mesh with the patriotic orthodoxy. Even more appalling has been the list's endurance decades beyond the dangers, however implausible, that gave rise to it.
How many Americans were still in the grip of the Red scare by the 1980s? Yet the McCarran-Walter blacklist ballooned under Reagan from 100,000 names to 367,000, as the administration stepped up efforts to keep left-wingers away from America's shores. The government stopped blocking the door for ideological reasons a couple of years ago, but the list still existed.
Now the State Department will purge most of the names. An alien will remain listed for political reasons only if the department certifies that there are compelling reasons for the blackball. (The names of foreigners denied entry on national-security grounds, as opposed to ideological, will remain on the list, and other people are prevented from entering the US under criminal or immigration laws.) McCarran-Walter has been a blot on America's commitment to civil liberties and human rights for too long. It '
s past time to bleach that stain.