An article about the McCarran-Walter Act in Thursday's editions said the Reagan administration had jailed and deported Patricia Lara, a Colombian journalist, without offering an explanation for the deportation. The State Department at the time said she was part of a Colombian terrorist organization. (Published 12/19/87)

Congress voted yesterday to revise fundamentally the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, a law that permitted the exclusion of foreigners on political grounds, and sent the measure to President Reagan for signature.

Under an amendment to the 1988 State Department authorization bill, aliens may no longer be denied entry into the United States on the basis of "past, current, or expected beliefs, statements, or associations."

The amendment extends constitutional rights enjoyed by Americans to foreigners, but aliens still may be excluded if they have engaged in terrorism, or clearly threaten national security.

The measure was initiated by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). In the House, one of its chief sponsors was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). According to a Senate source, conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) agreed not to oppose the revision. House and Senate conferees approved the measure last week; the conference report was approved in both chambers yesterday by voice vote.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) said he intends to oversee a comprehensive revision of the McCarran-Walter Act early next year. During the early 1950s, the law was a foundation stone of McCarthyism.

"I don't think we have appreciated the hurt this legislation has done the United States over the years," Moynihan said. "It presented us as a fearful and subliterate and oppressive society."

"It is the worst law I've ever seen," Frank said. " . . . What Pat offered goes a long way to curing it."

Frank said he hopes to strike down many of the 33 exclusions when it is taken up in 1988. "Gays are excluded," he said. "And anarchists are excluded so they can't reassassinate {President William} McKinley. There is a lot of other bad stuff in the law. In 1988, we're going to finish the job."

The McCarran-Walter Act was a comprehensive codification of the immigration and naturalization system. Its chief sponsor, Sen. Pat McCarran (D-Nev.), warned against "hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary, are our deadly enemies." The other chief sponsor was Rep. Francis Walter (D-Pa.).

The bill was written without hearings and it was passed into law over the veto of President Harry S Truman, who said: "Seldom has a bill exhibited the distrust evidenced here for citizens and aliens alike."

"From the time it was enacted in the fever of McCarthyism," Moynihan said, "there has been an annual scandal. Some writer, some painter, some minister could not be allowed to enter the United States."

Among the incidents:Pierre Trudeau, who became prime minister of Canada, was once denied entry to the United States under its provisions. Dennis Brutus, the South African poet, was denied admittance. So were Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate author; Graham Greene, the novelist; Dario Fo, the playwright; Carlos Fuentes, the writer and former Mexican ambassador to France; Farley Mowat, the Canadian naturalist author, and Hortensia Allende, the widow of socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a coup. In 1983, Italian Gen. Nino Pasti, a former NATO official and the former vice supreme Allied commander in Europe for nuclear affairs, was denied a visa. He had been an outspoken opponent of U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. In 1986, Patricia Lara, a correspondent for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, invited by Columbia University to an honors convocation, entered the country on a legal passport and visa, but was jailed and deported under the McCarran-Walter Act. She had written critically about the Reagan administration's policies. No explanation was offered for her deportation. Last May, a U.S. District Court judge cited the act in his denying New York-born writer Margaret Randall permanent resident-alien status.