Congressional Action on Barring PLO Members from Entering the U.S.
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Congressional Action on Barring PLO Members from Entering the U.S.

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A Senate House conference committee will work out language that will have the effect of barring members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and officials of labor organizations in Communist countries from entering the United States unless both the Secretary of State and the Attorney General agree on a special waiver for them.

The House of Representatives, which rejected a proposal on that basis last year, had adopted the legislation providing for the toughened law last week after its introduction by Rep. Stephen Solarz (D.NY) and Edward Derwinski (R.III). A proposal with a similar purpose was introduced by Senators Jacob Javits (R. NY) and Robert Dole (R.Kans.). The Senate approved it 87-2.

The measure is part of the authorization bill for the State Department. Sen. Howard Baker (R.Tenn.) and 10 other Senators asked the Senate to repeal the McGovern Amendment that made it easier for members of proscribed organizations such as the PLO to enter the U.S. But Javits and Dole urged milder language as a compromise because the McGovern Amendment had been originally offered to strengthen the U.S. position with respect to the Helsinki accords.

In the debate on the proposal, the Carter Administration had declared its opposition to any changes in the law, contending that the McGovern Amendment supported the U.S. position under the Helsinki agreement. But opposition to the Administration emerged strongly after the State Department granted a visa to Shafik al Hout, director of the PLO operations in Beirut, to visit the United States for three weeks during which he traveled freely after he was invited by unidentified groups at four American universities.


The AFL-CIO and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee had opposed the McGovern proviso. Baker noted that the proviso allows Communist officials “under the guise of trade unionism” to enter the U.S. and “grant the stomp of legitimacy to this patent charade.” Under the law, “the PLO is a proscribed organization” but Baker added that “PLO members have had virtually free access to this country.” Contrary to some recent assertions, Baker said, “it is a matter of official record at the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service that these agencies interpret the McGovern Amendment to require approval of visa applications for PLO officials.”

Baker observed that the amendment he offered “redresses this problem–these excesses of the present law–without doing any violence whatsoever to the legitimate and laudable purposes of the Helsinki accords.” It would require a U.S. government decision to admit visitors “openly rather than secretly and it reaffirms the commitment of the U.S. to an exchange of views and the movement of people that is truly free–not the convenient captive of propagandists and terrorists.”

Javits agreed that Baker was “absolutely right” about the waiver question but he wanted the law to be clear that the McGovern Amendment was passed to encourage free exchange of ideas and movement of citizens in the spirit of the Helsinki accords but not to accept representatives of the PLO which seeks to destroy Israel.

Sen. George McGovern (D. SD) opposed any changes in his amendment but he said he knows the law has been “a divisive matter in terms of our domestic political climate.” He added “It has obviously distressed certain spokesmen of the American labor movement and some representatives of the American Jewish community in this country who have misunderstood the impact of the amendment.” He voted for the amendment. The lone opponents were Senators William Armstrong (R. Colo) and James McClure (R. ldaho).

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