A US judge will hear an appeal from a conservative think tank which argues that the Duke of Sussex’s visa application should be made public following revelations of past drug use.
The federal court hearing will take place in Washington DC on Tuesday and will be open to media.
Prince Harry wrote of using marijuana, cocaine and psychedelic mushrooms in his memoir Spare, which was released in January.
This is significant because past drug use may be considered grounds to deny a US visa application, although in reality the situation is more complex.
The US hearing is separate from the UK trial involving Prince Harry and alleged phone hacking by newspapers.
Who brought the lawsuit?
The lawsuit is being filed by the Heritage Foundation, a prominent Washington DC-based think tank that historically has had a significant impact on US public policy.
In the lawsuit, the foundation argues that that “widespread and continuous” media coverage of his admitted drug use has called into question whether the government properly vetted Prince Harry and followed proper procedures when it admitted him into the country.
The duke moved to the US in January 2020 after announcing a decision that he and his wife, Meghan Markle, would step back from royal duties.
In a statement, the Heritage Foundation also said that it hoped to determine whether “celebrity elites” were receiving preferential treatment and whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was operating “fairly – without fear or favour”.
In its response to the lawsuit, DHS said that the Heritage Foundation had failed to demonstrate a need for the rapid release of the documents. The government also argued that there was nothing to suggest “widespread” public interest in seeing the immigration documents.
The foundation’s earlier, initial attempt was turned down by US Customs and Border Protection, which said that it needed Prince Harry to consent to his information being released.
The BBC has reached out to DHS for comment.
What has Harry said about using drugs?
Prince Harry, now 38, has admitted to drug use both as a teenager and an adult. In Spare, he said he used cocaine as a teenager and smoked marijuana while a pupil at Eton. Both drugs are illegal in the UK.
“It wasn’t much fun, and it didn’t make me particularly happy, as it seemed to make everyone around me,” he wrote of his cocaine use. “But it did make me feel different, and that was the main goal.”
He also described taking psychedelic mushrooms during a trip to California in 2016. The drug is illegal in the state, although various cities have decriminalised its use.
Similar admissions of drug use have been made in interviews since Spare was published.
The BBC has reached out to the duke for comment.
What are the rules on US visas and drug use?
In theory, known drug use can be grounds for both non-immigrant and immigrant visa applications to be rejected. The forms used for these applications specifically ask about current and past drug use, and whether the applicant is a “habitual drunkard”.
It is unclear what type of visa Prince Harry is in the US on. Ms Markle is a US citizen.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ official policies say that visa applicants “who are found to be drug users or addicts” are inadmissible. In practice, immigration officers are given considerable leeway to make a decision based on factors including the length and severity of drug use.
Waivers are also possible in instances in which an applicant has admitted to drug use.
According to Stacy Cozart Martin, an immigration lawyer and adjunct law professor at Case Western Reserve University, doing so most often requires a “pretty formal rehabilitation programme”, follow-up appointments with a doctor, and a year – or more – without any drug usage.
“Even then, it’s up to the [immigration] officer’s discretion whether they want to allow you to come in or not,” she said.
Prince Harry’s status as a celebrity may have also played a factor in his visa application.
“A lot of immigration is discretionary,” Ms Martin said. “They probably will also get a little bit more leeway than the average joe.”
Virginia-based immigration attorney Eileen Blessinger said that immigration officials deciding on any applicant’s entry to the US – or potential removal – would also have to weigh the potential benefits of letting that person in regardless of past transgressions.
“There could be an economic impact in the US, and also a cultural impact,” she said. “That’s all going to weigh heavily in favour of getting someone a waiver”.
Any lies or misrepresentations on the visa forms could lead to a visa being revoked.
What happens next?
It is unclear when the judge will make a decision on whether the documents can be unveiled. The Heritage Foundation has said it believes the matter will likely be resolved in a matter of weeks.
The think tank’s representatives will address the media following the hearing on Tuesday.
Immigration lawyers and experts believe that the judge is unlikely to agree with the Heritage Foundation’s lawsuit.
Both Ms Martin and Ms Blessinger said they had never heard of immigration records being revealed to the public, and warned that doing so in Prince Harry’s case would likely have far-reaching implications in the future.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that. Those applications have a ton of personal information on them,” Ms Martin said.
“It would be very, very shocking, and I think a little frightening, if that were to be released to the public,” she added. “Not only for him, but as a whole.”
Source : BBC