Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

As it happenedended1686852230

Prince Harry news – live: Heritage Foundation slams ‘zero transparency’ Biden admin over US visa decision

Rightwing Heritage Foundation is seeking Prince Harry’s immigration records after he admitted to past drug use, such as in his memoir Spare

Gustaf Kilander
Thursday 15 June 2023 19:03 BST
Related video: US government to appear in court over Prince Harry’s visa after drug use admissions

Prince Harry’s US visa records continue to stay under lock and key following a decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This week, the DHS rejected a request by conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation to expedite a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the Duke of Sussex‘s immigration records.

DHS Senior Director Jimmy Wolfrey wrote in a letter that “to the extent records exist, this office does not find a public interest in disclosure sufficient to override the subject’s privacy interests,” according to the New York Post.

Heritage lawyer Samuel Dewey slammed the decision to “stonewall” its request saying it “shows an appalling lack of transparency by the Biden Administration”.

“We will be contesting their position,” he added. “We expected to have to fight every step of this case in federal court and will continue to press for transparency and accountability for the American people.”

The think tank has been seeking his visa records after Prince Harry admitted to past drug use, such as in his memoir Spare. Drug use can be a reason to reject a US visa application. Prince Harry moved to Montecito, California, with his wife Meghan Markle in July 2020.


Prince Harry visa case: Why is a US think-tank seeking the release of the Duke of Sussex’s application form?

Prince Harry has been giving evidence at the High Court in London this month as part of a landmark legal action against Mirror Group Newspapers, which he is suing for damages after alleging that journalists at its titles had resorted to underhand methods to secure stories about him and his family, including phone hacking, gaining information by deception and employing private investigators for unlawful activities.

“How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?” he wrote in his 55-page witness statement, accusing the tabloid media of bad practice.

But the Duke of Sussex, 38, is also currently the subject of a second court case underway on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, is bringing a case against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appealing for the release of the duke’s visa application, submitted in advance of his relocation to California in January 2020.

A request for the form under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was previously turned down by US Customs and Border Protection, which told the foundation that it would need Prince Harry’s consent in order to do so.

Read more:

Why is a US think-tank seeking the release of Prince Harry’s visa application form?

Heritage Foundation accuses Department of Homeland Security of making exceptions for ‘celebrity elites’, citing royal’s recent drug use confessions, reports Joe Sommerlad

Joe Sommerlad14 June 2023 15:40

Report on 6 June hearing: Judge gives Biden administration a week to decide on release of Prince Harry’s visa records

A judge in DC federal court has asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to decide within a week how it will handle a Freedom of Information request from the conservative Heritage Foundation for the immigration records of the Duke of Sussex.

DHS has so far not responded to the request, prompting legal action from the foundation, in which they pointed to Prince Harry’s previous admissions of drug use, such as in his memoir Spare.

The department argued that an injunction to force DHS to expedite the request shouldn’t go ahead as the foundation hasn’t shown how they will suffer irreparable harm if the information isn’t shared.

Representing the government, Assistant US Attorney John Bardo argued on Tuesday that it wouldn’t make a difference when the request was handled, even if the response came a year from now.

The Heritage Foundation said the interest in Prince Harry’s immigration status would decrease over time.

Read more:

Judge gives Biden admin a week to decide on release of Prince Harry’s visa records

Heritage Foundation takes legal action to get hold of Duke’s immigration records, pointing to allegations of past drug use

Gustaf Kilander14 June 2023 16:00

Think-tank insists application is of ‘immense public interest'

The think-tank insists the application is of “immense public interest” in light of the duke’s subsequent confessions of past illegal drug use as a teenager and as an adult, which he made in the Netflix series Harry & Meghan in his recent memoir Spare.

The duke wrote in Spare that he had taken cocaine but found it “wasn’t much fun, and it didn’t make me particularly happy, as it seemed to make everyone around me” and said of smoking cannabis while still a pupil at Eton, the prestigious Berkshire private school: “Marijuana is different, that actually really did help me.”

A US DS160 visa application form explicitly asks the applicant to answer truthfully to the questions, “Have you ever been a drug abuser or addict?” and, “Have you ever violated, or engaged in a conspiracy to violate, any law relating to controlled substances?”

Joe Sommerlad14 June 2023 16:20

‘You can’t define mainstream. That’s almost absurd in this context’

Large parts of last week’s hearing centred on the amount of media attention on Prince Harry and his supposed drug use which some legal experts say would have barred him from entering the US.

The Heritage Foundation has suggested that the federal government may have been engaging in favouritism and may have turned a blind eye to actions which may have caused the authorities to reject the visa application. The foundation also argued that the public should be allowed to see Prince Harry’s immigration records to see if he may have provided untruthful answers.

For the government, US Assistant Attorney John Bardo argued that sufficient coverage from mainstream US media was required for a request to be expedited. He mentioned outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the TV networks.

Heritage lawyer Samuel Dewey meanwhile argued in front of Judge Carl Nichols that DHS regulations simply say “media” without specifying where the outlets are based.

Mr Dewey told The Independent that “you can’t define mainstream. That’s almost absurd in this context. So as a policy matter, that is a very alarming statement for the press and for transparency for the administration”.

Nile Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the foundation, added: “I do find it astonishing that the British press is referenced as obscure.”

“These are big publications with a wide global reach including millions of Americans who read these newspapers and I find it absolutely astonishing this description today [that there’s] some media that actually count and matter and others that do not. That is an extraordinary statement to make and absolutely unacceptable,” he added.

Mr Dewey argued in court that today’s media is global, noting that The Daily Mail had 100 million page views in the US in the month of April.

Gustaf Kilander14 June 2023 16:40

‘There’s a real serious question as to whether or not he should have been admitted’

If the duke’s application were to be published and reveal that his answers contradicted his later public revelations about his dalliances with drugs, the case would call into question the Biden administration’s handling of the visa application process, the organisation contends.

In a statement, the Heritage Foundation said that it hopes to determine whether “celebrity elites” such as the Duke of Sussex were likely to receive preferential treatment and whether the DHS was operating “fairly – without fear or favour”.

Speaking to Sky News, its counsel Sam Dewey said: “The [US] government has taken the position that ‘there’s nothing to see here’.

“We’ve taken the position that no, if you look through all the details of his admissions, you look at the drug laws, you look at the laws on admissions, there’s a real serious question as to whether or not he should have been admitted.

“The alternative, if he didn’t disclose the drug use – then there’s a very serious question as to whether or not proceedings should have begun against him for that.”

Joe Sommerlad14 June 2023 17:00

Heritage Foundation attorney says Prince Harry ‘has waived any privacy interest he has in his drug use'

Three agencies within DHS, including USCIS and US Customs and Border Protection, have rejected the FOIA request, but DHS HQ has so far not responded, with Mr Bardo saying during the hearing that no search for the files has been conducted at DHS HQ.

DHS said in legal filings that the US Customs and Border Protection denied the requests because Prince Harry hasn’t consented to the release of the files, with Mr Bardo saying in court that an individual’s visa is “confidential”.

Speaking to reporters outside the DC federal courthouse, Mr Dewey said that Prince Harry had foregone his right to privacy after his series of highly publicised interviews and Netflix documentary series.

Mr Dewey argued in court that the case is part of a larger probe into the conduct of the federal government, specifically into DHS supposedly not following the law in other areas of its responsibilities, such as not protecting the US border with Mexico.

“What are we asking for here?” Mr Dewey told reporters outside the courthouse. “We are only asking for the records that are related to this question that has been raised about the drug use and admission ... he’s talked about it, he’s written about it extensively, he has waived any privacy interest he has in his drug use, he has bragged about it in Spare and sold that.”

Gustaf Kilander14 June 2023 17:20

Heritage Foundation pushing to establish if there was ‘preferential treatment given to Prince Harry in any way'

“We are calling for accountability, transparency and openness from the Biden presidency,” Nile Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the foundation, said after last week’s hearing. “We believe there is a tremendous public interest in the release of these records in order to establish that US immigration law is fair, [that] it applies equally to everyone.”

“It is our view, definitely, that the public needs to see these ... documents and [what] exactly what Prince Harry put down on his application, especially in relation to his widespread drug use admitted to in Spare,” he added.

Dr Gardner said the foundation wants “to establish whether or not any favours were granted to Prince Harry, whether there was a preferential treatment given to Prince Harry in any way”.

The director of the Oversight Project at The Heritage Foundation, Mike Howell, told reporters after the hearing that “the everyday American is absolutely sick and tired of globalist elites lecturing us, looking down at us, dominating our cultural institutions, and no one proves that point more than Prince Harry”.

“They’re also sick and tired of a broken immigration system, one that we see a dual standard at play every single day,” he added.

Prince Harry wrote in Spare that cocaine “didn’t do anything for me”.

“Marijuana is different, that actually really did help me,” he added.

Gustaf Kilander14 June 2023 17:40

DHS and Heritage Foundation clash over media coverage

DHS said the think-tank had failed to demonstrate the necessity of releasing the document and questioned whether there was truly “widespread” public interest in the matter.

Prince Harry’s spokespeople have so far said they will not comment “at this time”.

The case opened in a federal court in Washington DC on Tuesday 6 June, with Judge Carl Nichols ruling that the Biden administration had one week to decide how it would handle the foundation’s FOIA request.

Representing the US government, assistant US Attorney John Bardo argued in court that sufficient coverage from mainstream American media was required for a request to be expedited.

Mr Dewey countered that DHS regulations simply say “media” without specifying where the outlets are based, pointing out that news websites have a global audience online these days, no matter where their parent company might be situated.

“You can’t define mainstream,” he subsequently told The Independent. “That’s almost absurd in this context. So as a policy matter, that is a very alarming statement for the press and for transparency for the administration.”

Joe Sommerlad14 June 2023 18:00

Case expected to take several weeks to resolve

The case is expected to take several weeks to resolve, with legal experts predicting that the judge is unlikely to side with the foundation’s argument because immigration documents contain a wealth of personal information about the applicant and so ordering the release of Prince Harry’s would set a potentially dangerous precedent.

Stacy Cozart Martin, an immigration lawyer and professor at Case Western Reserve University, told the BBC: “Those applications have a tonne of personal information on them. It would be very, very shocking, and I think a little frightening, if that were to be released to the public. Not only for him, but as a whole.”

Joe Sommerlad14 June 2023 18:20

‘In many cases, drug use results in the denial of a US visa’

Gustaf Kilander14 June 2023 18:40

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in