NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

FAQ on Iranian Earthquake Relief

As Iranian Americans, our hearts go out to all of those who were impacted by yesterday’s tragic earthquake that struck near the Iran-Iraq border. Initial reporting indicates that it is the deadliest earthquake of 2017, with hundreds dead and thousands injured, and many more who have lost everything. Like with prior earthquakes in Iran, the recovery and rebuilding is likely to be difficult.

Given the comprehensive trade embargo on Iran, Americans are likely to have questions regarding whether they will be able to assist in recovery efforts. While there are restrictions to navigate, the Treasury Department has licensed U.S. citizens to engage in certain activities to assist relief efforts in Iran following natural disasters. Below, we have detailed a brief Q&A, which we will update as the situation unfolds and we learn more about ongoing relief efforts.

The National Iranian American Council urges the Treasury Department to closely examine whether additional steps are needed to ensure that Americans can effectively contribute to relief efforts, and to issue any additional licenses necessary to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not stand in the way of urgent relief.

Frequently Asked Questions:

I am a resident of the United States and I want to help out with relief efforts in Iran, but don’t know if I can or how I can.  How can I help out with the earthquake relief?

While the United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, you can lawfully engage in certain activities to help out relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran. You can do the following:

  • You can donate food, clothing, or medicine to Iran, provided that the donations are meant to relieve human suffering and are not directed to the Government of Iran, an Iranian bank, or any other restricted parties.  
  • You can make donations to a U.S. non-governmental organization (“NGO”) engaged in the provision of humanitarian services in or related to Iran, including in relief and reconstruction efforts related to the earthquake. U.S. persons would not be permitted to send funds directly to non-U.S. charitable organizations specifically intending those funds to be used for relief efforts in Iran.
  • You can seek license authorization from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to engage in any other humanitarian-related activities related to the relief efforts in Iran.   

I want to help out, but am nervous about running afoul of U.S. sanctions laws.  Are there things that I definitely cannot do to support the relief efforts in Iran?

Yes. The United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, so most transactions between the two countries are prohibited absent an applicable exemption or license authorization. Those activities outlined above are either exempt from the trade embargo or are otherwise authorized. However, certain activities remain prohibited. For instance, the following activities remain prohibited under U.S. law:

  • You cannot send funds directly to Iranian charitable organizations absent prior license authorization from OFAC.  Such activity is currently prohibited under U.S. law and could expose you to civil or criminal liability as a result.
  • You cannot send goods or technologies to Iran to help out with relief efforts other than those that fall under the OFAC exemption or those that are licensed by OFAC.  The export of any prohibited goods or technologies to Iran is prohibited – even if such goods or technologies are intended for use in aiding relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran.

Should I contact a lawyer before deciding to send funds or make a donation to Iran?

Because the U.S. trade embargo with Iran is exceptionally broad and prohibits most dealings between the two countries – including what would be regarded as innocuous – it is always a good idea to speak to legal counsel before engaging in a transaction in or related to Iran.  However, due to the obvious need to act expediently to help out with relief efforts in Iran at this time, it would not necessarily be unreasonable to rely on the representations of a U.S.-based NGO providing humanitarian-related services to Iran that they are acting in compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.   

I am an American and saw a fundraiser for earthquake relief efforts on social media. Should I donate?
This depends both on what the funds will be used for and the credibility of the campaign. If the fundraiser is seeking donations for an Iranian or non-U.S. charity, you should NOT donate. If the fundraiser is for a U.S. organization that is planning relief efforts in line with U.S. sanctions regulations, you can consider donating to the campaign. However, you should also consider giving to U.S.-based organizations directly rather than using a social media platform.

Which U.S. charitable organizations might be planning relief efforts in Iran?

The following U.S. organizations have responded to previous natural disasters in Iran and are planning relief efforts in response to the 2017 earthquake:

We will update this list as additional information becomes available.

Muslim Ban 3.0 Disproportionately Impacts Iranians

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) estimates that Iranians will account for approximately 62% of those impacted by updates to the Muslim Ban.

How did we come to this conclusion?

We examined data published by the State Department and found the number of non-immigrant visas issued for each country included in the current ban. However, the current version of the ban does not apply equally to all countries included. Therefore we looked at the specific conditions and types of visas permitted for each country included. For example, in 2016 non-immigrant visas were issued to 28,822 Iranians and 4,368 of those were student visas (F/J/ M). Since the latest iteration of the Muslim Ban creates an exception for these visa categories we subtracted 4,368 from the total of 28,822 when calculating what proportion of those impacted by the terms of the new ban would be Iranian. In calculating the figures below we excluded Somalia because non-immigrant visas are still permitted. We also excluded Venezuela because only certain government officials and their family members are banned. A more detailed explanation of our calculation is shown at the bottom of this page.

What does this calculation tell us and what does it not tell us?

This is not meant to serve as a probability or statistical likelihood. This is a simple calculation and does not account for several variables. It assumes that visa applications and acceptance rates for 2017 will be identical for those in 2016. Of course, this will likely not be the case for various political and economic reasons. Some individuals from banned countries may choose to self-select out of the process and not even apply in the first place. This calculation also does not account for increased vetting procedures and assumes that visa applicants for permitted categories will be treated in the same way and accepted at the same rates as in 2016. However, what this calculation clearly demonstrates is that based on recent trends Iranians are highly likely to be disproportionately impacted by the current version of the ban.

What are the results?

For those interested our calculation went as follows: 

451 (visa categories excluded for Chad) + 24,454 (visa categories excluded for Iran) + 1,406 (visa categories excluded for Libya) + 100 (visa categories excluded for N. Korea) + 8,738 (visa categories excluded for Syria) + 3,786 (visa categories excluded for Yemen) = 38,935
24,454 (visa categories excluded for Iran)/38,935 (visa categories excluded for all banned countries) =.62 
In other words, if the current provisions of the ban were applied to the number of non-immigrant visas issued  for 2016 to citizens of the currently banned countries then 62% of those impacted would be from Iran. 
Raw data:
Chad B1/B2 – 451
Iran – 28,822-4,368
Iran Student visas (F, J, M): 4,368
Libya B1/B2 – 1,406
North Korea – 100
Syria – 8,738

Yemen tourist and business tourist (B1/B2)-3,786



PBS NewsHour: Iranian Americans in limbo after Trump’s new travel rules

Star-Telegram: ‘Devastating’: Travel rules leave Iranian-Americans in limbo

Washington Post: Trump probably won’t ditch the Iran deal. Here’s why.

What you need to know about Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0

The Question & Answers page is designed to answer all your questions in regards to Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0. If there are questions that are not listed here, please contact NIAC’s Legal Counsel Shayan Modarres at Please note that this page will be continuously updated as the situation evolves.

Who is Affected by Muslim Ban 3.0?

The entry of immigrants from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad and North Korea are suspended indefinitely.

The entry of nonimmigrants from Iran is also suspended, with the exception of student visas (F and M visas), or exchange visitor visas (J visas). Travelers entering under these three visa categories will be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

Certain nonimmigrants from Chad, Libya, Yemen and Venezuela will be permitted to enter, and Somali nationals will be subject to additional scrutiny.

The entry of nonimmigrants from Syria and North Korea is suspended without exception.

Will Green Card Holders Be Affected?

Under the terms of the proclamation, entry suspensions will not apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States, commonly referred to as LPR’s or Green Card holders. The suspension of entry will also not apply to persons inside the U.S. or persons with valid visas before October 18, and travelers with other travel documents such as a transportation letter or advance parole document. The language of the proclamation is unclear whether the exception under Section 6(c), providing that valid visas will not be retroactively revoked, will allow travelers to enter or will simply allow them to maintain valid visas while still being barred from entry.

How Will Muslim Ban 3.0 Affect Dual Nationals?

Dual nationals who are traveling on a passport issued by a country other than the eight covered countries will not be affected. So if you are a citizen of an EU country, for example, and also hold an Iranian passport, as long as you are entering the United States on a passport issued by the EU country you will not be affected by the proclamation. However, nationals of the eight banned countries under Muslim Ban 3.0 will still need a valid F, M, or J visa. Dual Iranian nationals with visas issued prior to October 18 will not have their visas revoked, but it remains to be seen whether they will be permitted to enter the United States, as the language of the proclamation is unclear on this point.

The Proclamation Says That Visas Will Not Be Revoked. But Will Visa Holders Be Able to Enter the U.S. if They, For Instance, Possess a Non-Student or Exchange Visa That Was Issued Before This Proclamation?

The language of the proclamation is unclear on this point. Under Section 6(c), valid visas issued prior to October 18 will not be revoked. However, it remains to be seen whether travelers possessing valid visas issued prior to October 18, that are not F, M, or J visas, will be permitted to enter.

My Fiancee is Awaiting Her Visa and She is Scheduled For an Interview. She is an Iranian National. How Does This Affect Our Situation?

Under the language of the Proclamation, as long as a valid visa is issued and possessed by the traveler before midnight on October 18, 2017, the proclamation will not affect that person. So if your fiance does not have her interview, and does not get her visa in hand prior to October 18, they will not be permitted to enter. After October 18, no Iranian travelers will be permitted entry unless they are entering as a green card holder, or they have a valid F, M, or J class visa. The language of the proclamation is unclear whether the exception under Section 6(c), providing that valid visas will not be retroactively revoked, will allow travelers to enter or will simply allow them to maintain valid visas while still being barred from entry.

My Aunt Is a Dual Citizen and She Just Got Her Visa. Will She Be Affected?

Generally, dual citizens are not affected by Muslim Ban 3.0 if they are traveling on a passport issued by a country other than the eight banned countries. Also, as long as she has a valid visa issued prior to the October 18 effective date, then she is exempt from the ban of entry under Section 6 of the proclamation. Please note, however, the language of the proclamation is unclear whether the exception under Section 6(c), providing that valid visas will not be retroactively revoked, will allow travelers to enter or will simply allow them to maintain valid visas while still being barred from entry. This remains to be seen.

My Iranian Grandmother Usually Visits Us Every Two Years. She Gets a Tourist Visa. Does This Mean That She Will Not Be Able to Come Anymore?

In short, she will not be able to enter the United States going forward. The entry of all non-immigrant Iranian nationals, including visitors and tourists, is suspended indefinitely and there is no set expiration date for Muslim Ban 3.0.

What Happens to the Existing Lawsuits Against Trump’s Original Muslim ban? Are they All Irrelevant Now? Can a New Legal Challenge Be Brought Against This Ban?

The cases before the Supreme Court challenging Executive Order 13780 are likely not moot, and will proceed with oral arguments scheduled on October 10th. New legal challenges against the current Muslim Ban 3.0 proclamation can be filed and are likely to be filed. NIAC is actively exploring the possibility of bringing litigation to challenge it.

Is This Permanent? Will Banned Classes of Iranians Never Be Able to Come As a Result of This Ban?

Muslim Ban 3.0 does not have a set expiration date and is indefinite by its terms. NIAC is actively pursuing all legal remedies, including a lawsuit seeking judicial intervention to prevent the administration from implementing the ban. We are also actively working to challenge the administrative Muslim ban that has been implemented through “extreme vetting” measures since May that have sent visas issued to Iranian nationals plummeting. NIAC will continue to work tirelessly to prevent this ban from perpetual implementation.

AlJazeera: Donald Trump denounces Iran over nuclear deal

NIAC Hiring Office Administrator (Update: Filled)

This position has been filled.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is looking for a highly motivated and dedicated Office Administrator to join our team in early September.  Reporting to the Director of Operations, NIAC’s Office Administrator provides overall administrative support to the organization and its staff to help advance our mission of strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.


  1. Donation Processing & Database Management – Process donations and maintain donor records in Salesforce NGO Connect.  Provide ongoing maintenance of supporter records and account information to ensure clean and accurate data.  Prepare and mail correspondence as appropriate to donors and supporters.
  2. Financial & Accounting – Assistant external accountant by coding expenses and revenues in QuickBooks Online.  Process invoices and reimbursements for payment.  Prepare checks for signature to pay bills/invoices as needed.  Maintain an organized filing system for financial records.
  3. Handle Phone and Email Inquiries – Route or respond to incoming calls and email inquiries as appropriate.  
  4. Recruit and Manage Interns – Place ads as needed to recruit for internships; maintain correspondence with applicants; interview and screen intern applicants.
  5. Office – Maintain inventory of supplies and order office supplies and equipment as needed.  Maintain office space appearance and maintenance.  
  6. Support Director of Operations – Provides support with additional duties as required.
  7. Prepare Marketing Lists – Utilize NIAC’s database to create lists for targeted outreach by NIAC’s Outreach staff, President, and event host committees.
  8. Travel Logistics – Book airfare and lodging accommodations for traveling staff and guest speakers.
  9. Event Support – May provide periodic assistance for NIAC events to events’ manager.


  • Bachelor’s degree
  • At least 1-3 years of relevant experience, preferably in a nonprofit setting
  • Strong organizational skills and attention to detail
  • Experience with QuickBooks Online and/or general accounting experience
  • Experience working with Salesforce strongly preferred
  • Proficiency with Microsoft Word and Excel
  • Familiarity with the Iranian-American community and Persian (Farsi) language ability a major plus
  • Enthusiasm for NIAC’s mission
  • Good organization and time management skills
  • Must take initiative and be resourceful
  • Strong oral and written communications skills
  • Attention to detail

To apply:

Send cover letter and resume to David Elliott at with “office administrator” in the subject line.  No calls please.


Salary for the position is $35,000 – $42,000, depending on experience. Compensation includes Fortune 100-style benefits:

  • Generous medical, dental, vision, long-term disability, and life insurance plan subsidies (a value of at least $3,600.)
  • 15 days of annual paid leave and 12 paid holidays
  • 401K with 2% company match

Memo: How Might Trump Undermine and Break the Provisions of the JCPOA

On July 17, 2017, President Trump reluctantly [1] certified that Iran has complied with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement implemented by the Obama Administration. Following the certification, the Trump Administration then placed sanctions on Iran citing its testing of ballistic missiles and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While the Obama Administration also escalated non-nuclear sanctions on Iran, President Trump and his administration’s extensive anti-JCPOA rhetoric and efforts to discourage legitimate business with Iran in potential violation of the JCPOA are indications that he may not intend to recertify the accord in October.

There are Two Main Ways in which the Administration Can Back Out of the JCPOA

  1. Trump could choose not to certify the JCPOA (even if Iran is in compliance)
  2. Trump could unilaterally implement “snap back” sanctions (even if Iran is in compliance)

If President Trump chooses not to certify the JCPOA, Congress has sixty days to begin expedited consideration of qualifying legislation reinstating sanctions in the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs or the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In either chamber, the Committee has ten session days after the date of referral to report the qualifying legislation before it is discharged and placed on the calendar.

If the Committee reports the legislation reinstating sanctions to the House or if the legislation is discharged from consideration, then the following steps will take place:

  1. The proposed legislation is considered on the House floor.
  2. Two hours of debate are allowed for the legislation.
  3. The legislation receives a vote.

If the Committee reports the legislation to the Senate or the legislation is discharged from consideration, then the following steps will take place:

  1. The proposed legislation is considered on the Senate floor.
  2. Ten hours of debate are allowed for the legislation.
  3. The legislation is immediately voted on.

Any appeals from the decisions of the Chair relating to the application of the Rules of the Senate shall be decided without debate. Debate of any veto messages with respect to qualifying legislation will be limited to ten hours.    

If President Trump decides to directly withdraw from the JCPOA, the Administration could also implement “snap back” sanctions by revoking the previous waivers, re-issuing the executive sanctions previously revoked by President Obama, and reimposing Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) designations that the Obama Administration had previously relieved from nuclear-related sanctions.

First, President Trump could revoke the previous waivers, which would reinstate the statutory sanctions on Iran listed under the Waiver Determinations and Findings. [2] The authority cites to sections in the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 (IFCA), National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 (Public Law 112-81), Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-58), and the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996. 

Second, President Trump could reissue the Executive sanctions previously revoked by the Obama Administration. President Obama issued “Executive Order: Revocation of Executive Orders 13574, 13590, 13622, and 13645 with Respect to Iran, Amendment of Executive Order 13628 with Respect to Iran, and Provision of Implementation of Authorities for Aspects of Certain Statutory Sanctions” on January 16, 2016. This Order lifted some of the sanctions implemented by the United States and the UN Security Council prior to the nuclear agreement with Iran. However, Trump could choose to reinstate those same sanctions using his executive power.

Third, President Trump could choose to reimpose SDN designations that the Obama Administration had previously exempted from nuclear-related sanctions. President Obama relieved designated individuals and entities [3] and exempted them from the nuclear-related sanctions, as required by the JCPOA [4]. President Trump could use his executive power to simply relist the Iranian individuals and entities that President Obama had delisted.

Possible Ramifications to Trump’s “Snap Back” Sanctions

The purpose of the JCPOA agreement is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively civilian in nature. The JCPOA gives the United States the ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear energy advancement while giving Iran the opportunity to develop its energy within the guidelines. The lifting of sanctions also allows Iran to re-enter the global economic market per the terms of the nuclear agreement.

The U.S. is not prohibited by the JCPOA from escalating sanctions targeting Iran for non-nuclear activities, provided they do not interfere with U.S. sanctions-lifting obligations. However, the United States cannot reimpose sanctions on the same entities even if they are imposed under a separate justification without violating the JCPOA. Doing so would remove Iran’s incentives to comply with the deal.

The language of the JCPOA explicitly states:

“The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA, without prejudice to the dispute resolution process provided for under this JCPOA. The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions specified in Annex II, or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

If the United States were to not abide by its agreed upon provisions and place sanctions in violation of the nuclear agreement, Iran can choose to appeal to a joint committee and state the claim that the United States violated the JCPOA.

Caution Moving Forward

While President Trump could technically back out of the JCPOA and destroy the deal, each method has immense consequences for international security, for America’s credibility to negotiate future diplomatic agreements, for nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and for the stability of the entire Middle East. If the legislation goes through Congress, there is always the option that Congress abstains from reinstating the sanctions that would violate the JCPOA. Yet, given that every Republican in Congress voted against the accord during Congressional review in September 2015 and the Republican party controls both houses of Congress, such an outcome seems unlikely. Thus, if Trump failed to certify, Congress would likely deal the accord a fatal blow.

Trump’s decision to “snap back” would further escalate the tense relationship between the United States and Iran and push forward the sentiment of mistrust that has long prevented the two states from successfully sustaining a cooperative relationship. This would not only create pressure in the international community and isolate the United States from its European allies, but such a hardline approach could also increase the climate for war between the United States and Iran. The Administration ultimately has significant latitude and can terminate America’s compliance with the agreement if President Trump so chooses. 

[1] Peter Baker, Trump Recertified Iran Deal, but Only Reluctantly, New York Times, (July 17, 2017).
[2] See Waiver Determinations and Findings, Dept. of State (Oct. 18, 2015).
[3] Annex II, Attachment III of JCPOA
[4] Paragraph 21 of JCPOA

Iranian-American Community Advisory: Know Your Rights at the Airport and the Border

Given the recent “Muslim Travel Ban” executive orders, many Iranians are concerned about their right to enter the United States (U.S.) and interacting with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which polices the border. This advisory provides some general guidance.[1]
Entering the U.S.

Your right to enter the U.S. depends on whether you are a (1) U.S. citizen; (2) a “green card” holder (also known as a “lawful permanent resident” or “LPR”); or (3) a visa holder.

U.S. citizens have an absolute right to enter the U.S. The government must allow entry with proof of identity and citizenship. Showing an unexpired U.S. passport is normally sufficient.

Green card holders (LPRs) have a strong right to enter the U.S. CBP normally cannot refuse entry as long as the trip abroad was brief (usually 6 months or less) and innocent (which usually means no criminal issues). Otherwise, you may be subject to deportation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: CBP officers do not have the right to take away your immigration status; only an immigration judge has that authority. A green card holder (LPR) has the right to go before an immigration judge, who will decide whether or not to revoke the green card. Do not sign any document that you do not understand. You often will not immediately see a judge because of backlogs in the court. Depending on your case, you may or may not be detained in a detention center during this process. As such, consult with an immigration attorney before you travel.

Visa holders with valid travel documents to enter the U.S. are still inspected at the border. CBP officers can question you at the airport or border. If they find that you are not seeking to enter the U.S. for the purpose of your visa, or if there is a visa violation, they can refuse your entry into the U.S.

If CBP detains and prohibits you from entering the U.S., and you fear returning to your home country, you may want to tell the CBP agent of your fear of returning home. Doing so triggers the “Credible Fear Interview,” which requires CBP to determine if you have a legitimate fear. Claiming fear will start the asylum process and prohibits CBP from immediately making you return to your home country. However, you may be held in a detention center for several months until you can see an immigration judge. Alternatively, CBP may release you from the airport with paperwork on the next steps of your asylum case.

NOTE ON THE MUSLIM BAN: U.S. citizens, dual nationals, and green card holders (LPRs) are NOT included in the Muslim Travel Ban executive orders. Since February 1, 2017, the government has explicitly stated that green card holders (LPRs) are exempt. As of June 26 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court has also said that the Muslim Travel Ban cannot be enforced against foreign nationals who have a bona fide relationship (i.e. a particular kind of qualifying relationship) with a person or entity in the U.S. Please check for updates as the law is constantly evolving. This advisory does not fully cover the Muslim Travel Ban. Please see our organization websites for more information.

Going Through Customs

CBP has broad authority at the border and airport. This includes the ability to ask questions to decide whether non-U.S. citizens can enter the U.S. CBP officers can ask about your immigration status when you are entering and leaving the U.S., as well as routine customs questions about the nature and purpose of your travel.

U.S. citizens do not have to answer questions outside the scope of immigration status/presenting a valid passport and basic customs questions, but refusing to answer them may lead to delay.

  • YES: The agent can ask questions to confirm you are who you say you are.
  • YES: The agent can ask what countries you visited while you were abroad.
  • YES: The agent can ask why you went to specific countries.
  • YES: The agent can ask how much money you are taking/returning with.
  • NO: The agent cannot ask you about your religion, your politics, or other irrelevant and inappropriate questions of this nature. If this happens, politely ask for a supervisor and try to remember the agent’s name and the questions you were asked.

If you are traveling to Iran to manage finances, land, property, or an inheritance, you may want to consult with an Iran sanctions attorney before you leave the U.S. (contact our organizations for a list of attorneys).

Green card holders (LPRs) have a lot of protections, but not as much as U.S. citizens. CBP can ask questions about your immigration status and routine questions about whether or not your trip was brief and innocent (see above). However, green card holders (LPRs) are not required to answer broader and intrusive questions (see above). 

Visa holders have the least amount of protection, particularly non-immigrant visa holders. CBP can ask a range of questions to confirm: your identity; that you are coming to the U.S. for a legitimate reason; that you are not breaking the law by entering; and other related questions. Unfortunately, visa holders can be denied entry for not answering questions. Before you step off your flight, make sure to review the visa paperwork so that the answers to the CBP agent match the information on your application.

For all travelers, regardless of your immigration status, if a CBP officer asks questions beyond the scope of routine travels (such as questions about political beliefs, religious practices, or questions about family and community), you can ask to speak with a supervisor. You can also ask for the name and badge number of the CBP officer to file a complaint with U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties. Contact our organizations for assistance.

If You Are Searched

There are two stages of inspection at the airport: primary and secondary. Everyone goes through primary inspection, where you go up to the CBP agent and show your passport and any immigration paperwork. If CBP pulls you aside and questions you further (usually in a different room and by a different agent), then you are in secondary inspection.

CBP does not allow attorneys into secondary inspection, but you should still have the name and number of your attorney with you and ask to contact her/him if you believe that your rights are being violated or you are being forced to answer questions that may incriminate you. Asking for an attorney cannot be used against you.

Electronic Devices

CBP has the authority to stop, detain, and search any person and any item at the border (which includes airports) and within 100 miles of the border.[2] However, the U.S. Constitution prohibits searches or questioning solely because of national origin, ethnicity, race, religion, political beliefs, or gender. If you are stopped and searched for any of these reasons, you can politely object and state that you do not consent to a search. It is very important that you never physically resist a search. Instead, you can ask to speak with a supervisor and keep a record of the CBP agent’s name and badge number.

Recently, CBP agents have started searching electronic devices such as laptops, phones, etc. much more frequently. The law is currently unclear on the right to search laptops and cell phones at the border. Nevertheless, CBP will often ask travelers to unlock their devices to search them, even when they have no reason to think you did anything wrong.[3]

U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry to the U.S. for refusing to provide access to their device, produce passwords, or submit their electronic devices for a search. Green card holders (LPRs) cannot be denied entry for the same activity unless the trip was not brief or innocent. While visa holders, particularly non-immigrant visa holders, can also refuse to provide access to their electronic devices, doing so may complicate their entry and result in denial of entry to the U.S.

A CBP agent can confiscate your electronic devices regardless of your immigration status. In such instances, write down the name and badge number of the CBP officer and ask for a receipt for your confiscated property. Contact one of our organizations for help.

Legal Assistance

If your passport, visa, or global entry is revoked, please seek legal assistance to confirm that it was properly revoked or to take action to get it reinstated. In certain cases, passports, visas, or global entry is revoked for discriminatory or accidental reasons and there are remedies available to you.

Travel Tips

  • Be honest. It is important to remain silent or tell the truth. Lying to a federal officer can be a federal crime. Even an accidental lie can lead to a federal criminal charge. For example, if you are asked about travels dates and accidentally give a wrong date, that may constitute lying to a federal officer.
  • Do not sign any documents you do not understand. If you are asked to sign any documents by CBP, it is very important that you understand what you are signing to ensure you are not waiving your rights or immigration status.
  • Ask for an interpreter if you are not fully comfortable communicating in English. If one is not available, tell the agent that you cannot answer questions in English because you don’t understand it well enough.
  • Back up the data on your electronic devices before traveling. Please see the Electronic Frontier Foundation pamphlet Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border: Protecting the Data on Your Devices and in the Cloud.
  • Consider using temporary devices when traveling. If you have to bring your main phone or laptop with you: i) log out of social media and email accounts; ii) check to make sure there is no information on your phone that you would not want an agent to see (e.g. photos, frequently visited websites, contacts); and iii) make sure you completely power down your device before you go in front of the agent (do not just close it or put it in sleep mode).
  • Make sure to use strong passwords on your electronic devices (instead of fingerprint passcodes). Consider encrypting your entire device as well.
  • If you have other questions about your rights, particularly relating to the FBI, please read the following Know Your Rights pamphlet that covers such topics.


Please contact us with any questions by clicking on the links below. We have Farsi speakers available at all organizations.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus
Iranian American Bar Association
National Iranian American Council
Pars Equality Center

[1] This advisory is intended as a general reference only; it does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. For specific questions, please contact our organizations to speak with an attorney.

[2] Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) states that CBP agents, without a warrant, may “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States… board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.” The term “reasonable distance” is defined by 8 Code of Federal Regulations 287(a)(1) as 100 air miles from the U.S. border.

[3] Note: In Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (state), CBP has to have “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a forensic search of a digital device (a detailed search using special equipment).

NIAC Statement on the Unjust Sentencing of US Citizen Xiyue Wang

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202 386 6407

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to the sentencing of Princeton doctoral student Xiyue Wang to ten years in prison:

“We condemn the unjust detention and sentencing of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton student conducting research on the Qajar Dynasty in Iran. From the evidence made public by Iran’s Judiciary against Mr. Wang, it appears that his only crime was to read books at a public library. To conflate a historian’s use of a public archive with espionage is absurd. By definition, there are no classified state secrets at public archives. To claim otherwise only shows how bizarre the Iranian judiciary’s definition of security has become.

“Academic exchanges have always persisted in some form despite the tense relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The arrest and detention of Mr. Wang is a direct assault on academic exchange, human rights, and the future of peaceful diplomacy. We call for the release of Mr. Wang as well as that of other dual nationals held by the Iranian judiciary on trumped up charges, such as Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi.

“These unjustified detentions tarnish the image of Iran in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately, there are elements in Iran that seek to unjustly arrest Westerners in order to undermine Iran’s economic reintegration into the world because they fear that an end to Iran’s isolation will diminish their grip on the country. In this context, suggestions by the Trump administration that it is seeking regime change in Iran only make matters worse, as it used by repressive elements in Iran to justify and intensify their repression.”