October 24, 2013

Hon. John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Hon. Rand Beers
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Kerry and Acting Secretary Beers,

We are writing to request your immediate attention to the case of Kerim Yildiz, a British human rights activist who has been waiting for more than nineteen months for a visa for travel to the United States. The Department of State has stated that it will grant Mr. Yildiz a visa but it has not done so, and we are increasingly concerned that the delay may be attributable to Mr. Yildiz’s human rights advocacy. We respectfully ask that you immediately grant Mr. Yildiz a visa or exp lain publicly why he is being excluded from the United States.

In February 2010, the undersigned organizations wrote to former Secretary Clinton to ask that the State Department ensure that the immigration laws do not unwarrantedly become barriers to the free exchange of ideas across international borders. In response, former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh wrote in December 2010 that in assessing whether to grant a visa or waive inadmissibility, the State Department would “take[] steps to ensure that appropriate attention is given to the great importance of hearing diverse views.” Exhibit A at 2. Mr. Koh indicated that the State Department would consider “the reasons for the proposed travel, and the positive or negative effects, if any, of the planned travel on U.S. public interests.” Id. It would also “give significant and sympathetic weight to the fact that the primary purpose of the visa applicant’s travel will be to assume a university teaching post, to fulfill speaking engagements, to attend academic conferences, or for similar expressive or educational activities.” Id. Our organizations were hopeful that these assurances signaled a commitment to facilitating the exchange of ideas across international borders.

On September 15, 2011, our organizations wrote to protest the State Department’s nearly year-long delay in ruling on a visa application by Mr. Yildiz who, at the time, was the Chief Executive of the U.K.-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP). Exhibit B. Mr. Yildiz sought a visa to travel to the United States to speak to American audiences and receive a prestigious award from an American foundation. Shortly following receipt of our letter, the State Department granted Mr. Yildiz a three-month tourist visa.

Mr. Yildiz is now the Director of the Democratic Progress Institute (DPI), a U.K-based registered charity analogous to a U.S. 501(c)(3), which seeks to broaden public involvement in peace efforts and democracy building. On March 13, 2012, he applied for a tourist visa to travel to the United States to meet with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Gruber Foundation, Harvard University, and the Open Society Foundations. After waiting more than seven months for a decision, on October 17, 2012, Mr. Yildiz contacted Ambassador Louis Susman of the U.S. Embassy in London to inquire about his application. That same day, the Consular Information Unit of the U.S. Embassy responded that Mr. Yildiz’s application was “subject to additional administrative processing.” On November 8, 2012, Mr. Yildiz sent the embassy additional materials supporting his visa application, including updated letters of invitation. On February 4, 2013, the U.S. Embassy’s London Petitions Unit emailed Mr. Yildiz to request a new travel itinerary because his original travel dates had passed. Mr. Yildiz provided the information on April 23, 2013.

On May 15, 2013, the U.S. Embassy in London informed Mr. Yildiz that his visa application was denied under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 2 12(a)(3)(B)(i)(I), but that “the Department of State has authorized a waiver of this ineligibility.” It requested him to “resubmit [his]passport … for visa issuance.” Mr. Yildiz did so on June 19, 2013. On July 22, 2013, however, the embassy’s Visa Coordination Unit informed Mr. Yildiz by email that “additional administrative processing [was] required.” His visa application has now been pending for more than nineteen months.

Notwithstanding the State Department’s inadmissibility determination, we know of no reason why Mr. Yildiz should be ineligible for a visa to the United States. He last entered the United States in 2011, complied with all terms of his stay, and departed in a timely manner. Mr. Yildiz is a respected human rights advocate who has met with and briefed numerous State Department officials about human rights issues in the Kurdish regions. If the State Department nonetheless considers Mr. Yildiz to be inadmissible (as it apparently does), the factors that Mr. Koh outlined in his December 2010 letter weigh strongly in favor of granting Mr. Yildiz a waiver. Mr. Yildiz seeks to speak to American audiences and meet with the ACLU, the Open Society Foundations, and the Gruber Foundation. Permitting him to visit the United States would serve the public interest because his area of specialty—Kurdish rights—is of obvious relevance to current public debates, including those about the United States’ relations with Iraq and Turkey.

We are concerned that the ineligibility determination, and the lengthy delay in issuing Mr. Yildiz a visa despite the grant of a waiver of ineligibility, are attributable to Mr. Yildiz’s legitimate advocacy concerning the rights of Kurds in Iraq and Turkey. Mr. Yildiz’s exclusion from the United States is unfair to him and infringes the constitutional rights of Americans who wish to learn from, and engage in dialogue with, him.

We urge you to act immediately and to issue Mr. Yildiz a visa or publicly explain the reasons for his exclusion from the United States. Please contact Joanne Lin at (202) 675-2317. Thank you for your attention to this letter.

American Civil Liberties Union
American Association of University Professors
PEN American Center

Mary McLeod, Principal Deputy Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State
Janice L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary, DOS Bureau of Consular Affairs
David McKean, Director, DOS Policy Planning Staff
Joseph Maher, Acting General Counsel, DHS (Office of the Secretary)
David Heyman, Assistant Secretary for Policy, DHS
Seth Grossman, Deputy General Counsel, DHS
John Cohen, Principal Deputy Counterterrorism Coordinator and Senior Advisor to the
Secretary, DHS
James Cole, Deputy
Attorney General, DOJ

View the PDF of the letter, including Exhibits A and B