A Foolish Act

The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, passed at the height of anti-communist hysteria in the United States, continues to be a black mark on this country’s laws and actions. The latest example involves a writer and poet named Margaret Randall, whom the Immigration and Naturalization Service is trying to deport because she has been critical of American foreign policy.

Randall was born in this country but voluntarily gave up her citizenship in Mexico in 1967. She says it was necessary to do that in order to get a job there. In any case, she returned to the United States last year and is now teaching at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She has applied for permanent residency status.

The immigration service turned her down based on the provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act that permit the exclusion of persons from the United States based on their political views. Randall has been critical of the condition of civil rights in this country and of U.S. intervention in Central America. The agency said her writing went beyond “mere dissent, disagreement with or criticism of the United States and its policy, and therefore she should be denied the opportunity to remain in this country.”

The fact that Randall once renounced her citizenship is irrelevant to the proceeding now at hand. The immigration service has wide discretion in applying the laws and has foolishly decided that this woman should be deported. Perhaps it is seeking to punish her for what she did in 1967. That is a mistake. The more serious problem is the policy that excludes people on the basis of their political views. Randall poses no threat to this country, which holds freedom of expression as one of its cherished rights.


Six distinguished writers--Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Grace Paley, Alice Walker, William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut--have filed suit in Washington on Randall’s behalf, claiming that they would be denied the right to hear her and associate with her if she is deported.

The government’s action against Randall is a holdover from an era long past. The immigration service should let Randall stay in this country, and Congress should finally repeal the McCarran-Walter Act, an idea whose time has gone.