Faculty and students at Case Western Reserve University are lobbying to bring a popular history professor back to Cleveland. Latin American scholar Marixa Lasso has been stranded in Panama for three months because of a delay in renewing her visa. And, she says, no one will tell her why. ideastream's David C. Barnett has more.
Marixa Lasso loves her native Panama. It was a big step for her to leave home when she got a Fullbright scholarship to study in the United States, fourteen years ago. She's been commuting regularly between the two countries ever since, doing research on Latin American history. But, when she tried to renew her visa back to the U,S. this past July, she was told there was a problem.
Marixa Lasso: Never, never have I had a visa problem before
Officials at the American embassy in Panama City said her application had been delayed and she would just have to wait. Since then, Lasso... her American husband... and Case Western faculty members have been trying to find out why it's been taking so long. At a planning meeting yesterday, Ken Ledford of the History department said the new school year has gotten off to a bad start
Ken Ledford: All of our Latin American history offerings have had to be canceled...
...because, they don't expect her to be back this fall, and they're starting to worry about her status for the Spring. Ledford expressed his puzzlement over the delay of Lasso's visa approval, noting that the University has done all the paperwork needed to make sure she qualifies for an "01 visa". Immigration lawyer David Leopold says the 01s only go to the cream of the crop.
David Leopold: The "01" visa is a temporary visa, reserved for individuals in the sciences and the arts and academics of extraordinary ability -- people who have reached the pinnacle of their field. Congress has decided that we want these people here.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to talk about the Lasso visa delay, saying that it was against policy to discuss individual cases. But, local attorney and former U.S. Immigration official Robert Brown suspects the visa itself is not in question.
Robert Brown: It tends to revolve more around security clearance questions. And not necessarily the person's background, but just getting the security clearance done through various government agencies.
He says, all it takes is for your name to be similar to a so-called "bad person", and red flags get thrown up throughout the system -- a system that is overloaded with requests.
Robert Brown: There is such a large number of people coming in and out of the United States and looking for immigration benefits in the U.S. that the number of clearances going on daily is tremendous.
David Leopold says that Marixa Lasso's case is only one of many around the country
David Leopold: We have a broken immigration system in this country. It's in need of repair, Congress hasn't fixed it...
...and a gathering of about thirty students and faculty members may not fix it either. But, yesterday afternoon, this collection of PhDs, graduate students and undergrads resolved to spread the word about Marixa Lasso around the campus, and around the community. There are also plans to lobby the local Congressional delegation on her behalf. Meanwhile, the woman who's the subject of all this attention sits in Panama City, waiting to get some word on her status.
Marixa Lasso: I wish I knew what was going on. If I could do something about it, if I could give an explanation, or whatever explanation is needed. And that I'm really looking forward to come back to my classes. And I wish that would happen soon.
David C. Barnett, 90.3.