Florida bans visits to 'terrorist' states

March 9, 2007

A judge has upheld a Florida law that in effect prevents students and faculty at public universities in that state from travelling to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, which the US Government considers terrorist states.

The law, which was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the faculty senate of Florida International University in Miami, prevents anyone associated with a public university in Florida from using state or federal funds or university-administered private grants from going to any country listed by the US Government as supporting terrorism.

Scholars at private universities are barred from using state money for such travel.

Critics say the ban is a violation of the US Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech and free association, and usurps the federal Government's authority to regulate foreign commerce, which is not controlled by states.

"Crude censorship such as this serves only to keep Americans uninformed about climate changes that may affect our economy, the understanding of diseases necessary to protect our health, and information about political and economic developments that may be vital for our national security,"

said Howard Simon, director of the Florida ACLU branch.

The measure was passed last year in response to the indictment of a Florida International University psychology professor and his wife, who was also employed by the university, on charges that they worked as spies for Cuba.

The professor, Carlos Alvarez, was sentenced last week to five years in prison. His wife, Elsa Alvarez, got three years.

Meanwhile, the US Government has stopped accepting most Iraqi passports because, it said, they were too easily forged. The move has made it impossible for many Iraqi students to return to their American universities even if they have valid US visas.

The old passports have been replaced by new ones with electronic barcodes that no Iraqi embassy has the technology to produce.

Iraqi officials say it will take months to acquire the equipment needed to make the new passports, forcing stranded students to return to Baghdad to get one.

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