US judge hears rightwing thinktank’s challenge over Prince Harry visa | US news

A federal judge has given the US government a week to decide how to respond to a rightwing thinktank that alleges Prince Harry may have lied about past drug use on his visa application.

The Duke of Sussex moved to southern California with his wife, Meghan Markle, an American citizen, and their young family in 2020 after they left British royal life and embarked on new projects, including the release of his memoir, Spare in January.

Harry, now 38, wrote that he took cocaine several times starting at about 17, in order “to feel. To be different.” He also acknowledged using cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms.

Application forms for US visas specifically ask about current and past drug use. Admission of such use can lead to visa applications being rejected, although immigration officers can weigh various factors in their final decision.

The Heritage Foundation, a thinktank in Washington, has asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) via the Freedom of Information Act (Foia) to release Harry’s visa application. It argues that there is “intense public interest” in whether he received special treatment during the application process.

Nile Gardiner, a former aide to the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told reporters outside court on Tuesday: “A key factor here has been Prince Harry’s memoir and his revelations about his own drug use. He’s put it all out there.

“Let’s see whether that exactly matches what he put on his immigration application because, if it doesn’t, that’s perjury, that’s a criminal offence. Everyone should be held to account before the law here. No one should be treated any differently.”

In its lawsuit, the Heritage Foundation argues that “widespread” coverage of Harry’s admitted drug use calls into question whether the government properly followed immigration law when it admitted him into the US and whether he was given preferential treatment.

At a court in Washington on Tuesday, Sam Dewey, a lawyer representing Heritage, argued that the lawsuit is bigger than one man. He told the judge, Carl Nichols: “This is obviously a case about the Duke of Sussex. What this case is truly about is the DHS and DHS’s compliance with law.”

Dewey quoted from a newspaper article in which Alberto Benítez, director of George Washington University’s immigration clinic, reportedly said of Harry and his US immigration process: “He would have been asked [about drug use]. If he was truthful in his answers, he should have been denied.”

John Bardo, a lawyer representing the DHS, responded: “Plaintiff is not entitled to any records, and that is mainly because a person’s visa status is confidential.”

Nichols gave the DHS until 13 June to decide whether or not it will expedite or respond to a request for the records. Several agencies within the department have denied the Foia requests, but the department headquarters has not yet reached a conclusion.

If the DHS says no, Nichols will eventually have to rule on whether it is in the public interest to make the immigration documents available.

Gardiner has hosted British politicians such as Priti Patel and Liz Truss at the Heritage Foundation’s offices on Capitol Hill. He has written articles denouncing Prince Harry but denied that he is pursuing a hidden agenda.

He told reporters: “Prince Harry is a big figure, but this is ultimately about US immigration law, [and] ensuring that it is applied fairly and equally to everybody. No one should be above the law, no one should receive preferential treatment and, in light of Prince Harry’s extensive illegal drug use, we believe he should be held to account with regard to his application.”

The DHS has argued that there is no need for the fast processing of Harry’s documents and that there is no “widespread” public interest in seeing their contents.

The US routinely asks about drug use on its visa applications, and it has been linked to travel headaches for celebrities, including chef Nigella Lawson, singer Amy Winehouse and model Kate Moss. But acknowledgement of past drug use does not necessarily bar people from entering or staying in the country.

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