Washington, D.C. — Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) delivered a letter to Bank of America CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, concerning the alarming amount of customers of Iranian descent that have contacted NIAC because they have had their bank accounts suspended or closed, and funds wrongfully withheld, without any advance notice or recourse.
Four years ago, NIAC contacted Bank of America in May 2014 concerning the same issue of discrimination against customers of Iranian descent. We noted that NIAC had successfully partnered with the Bank of Hawaii to come to a solution which would allow the bank to comply with existing U.S. sanction laws, while also delivering outstanding customer service to all bank customer, regardless of national origin.
It is deeply concerning to NIAC that after four years, Bank of America has still not taken the concerns of the Iranian-American community seriously and has continued its problematic policy of enforcing sanctions to the point of discrimination and disparate treatment towards certain customers because they’re Iranian.
Ordinary Iranian-Americans who have had to navigate confusing U.S. sanction laws know full well the complex maze which makes compliance exceedingly difficult. But sanction laws do not outweigh the civil rights and liberties of the customers of an entity like Bank of America. And sanctions certainly do not excuse or justify discriminatory conduct by U.S. banks and corporations. It is Bank of America’s duty to strike a proper balance between compliance with sanctions and strict observance of civil rights laws.
If Bank of America finds U.S. sanction laws unduly burdensome and difficult to navigate, they will find a willing partner in NIAC to help voice these concerns to the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). But discriminatorily targeting customers on the basis of nationality cannot be justified by the complexities of sanction laws.
In our letter, we cited an example of an Iranian national who was living in the United States with his wife, on valid visas, and had his Bank of America account abruptly suspended. The customer and his pregnant wife had several thousands of dollars withheld from them by Bank of America for about three months before they contacted NIAC to intervene, desperate because they needed the money for medical appointments and treatment. After about a week of discussions with NIAC, Bank of America finally remitted the customer’s money to him without so much as an apology for withholding the money without any legal justification whatsoever and causing significant hardship to their family.
This pattern of conduct by Bank of America is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. NIAC calls on Bank of America to immediately suspend this discriminatory practice of bank account closures for customers of Iranian descent, and come to the table to work in partnership with NIAC to develop a solution that will ensure compliance with U.S. sanction laws, while avoiding discriminating against customers of Iranian descent living in the United States.
NIAC will continue to actively monitor this situation and Bank of America’s conduct. We fervently hope that we are able to work in partnership with Bank of America and reach a comprehensive resolution to this matter, but NIAC also owes a duty to the Iranian-American community and is committed to protecting the community against flagrant acts of discrimination. NIAC will utilize all tools at its disposal to ensure that we meet this commitment, including large-scale public campaigns and litigation, if necessary.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran’s nuclear program:
“Netanyahu’s desperation to kill the Iran deal and drag the United States into war with Iran was on full display today. Netanyahu played a key role in helping con the American people into the war with Iraq and is now pulling out all the stops to do the same with Iran.
“Netanyahu revealed nothing that indicates Iran is not upholding its obligations under the nuclear deal. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran’s nuclear program or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will not be surprised by allegations that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program fifteen years ago. Those well-known concerns were the reason why the international community negotiated an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and subject it to intrusive international inspections.
“Netanyahu and others who are working to kill the deal are trying to reopen a crisis that had been contained. The nuclear deal ensures that if Iran tries to cheat, they will get caught. Exiting the agreement will take international inspectors out of Iran and eliminate the strict limits now in place on Iran’s nuclear program. Trump risks driving Iran to not just abandon the nuclear deal but perhaps the entire Non-Proliferation Treaty. Concerns about Iran’s past nuclear work will mean little in a scenario where the deal is dead, there are no longer inspectors in Iran and zero constraints on Iran’s nuclear work.
“If Trump is hoodwinked into abrogating the deal out of notions that Iran lied about its nuclear program fifteen years ago, we will be repeating the foolhardy notions that led to the war in Iraq – a catastrophe that Netanyahu promised would bring enormous benefits to the entire region.
“If Trump is truly disinclined to start a new Middle East war and putting U.S. troops on the ground for generations, he can’t listen to foreign leaders in the region who have a vested interest in dragging the U.S. deeper into regional conflagrations.
“Unfortunately, Trump’s own advisors are likely encouraging stunts like we saw today. It is hard to believe it is a coincidence that Netanyahu’s announcement comes on the heels of Pompeo’s meeting with the Prime Minister. Trump’s war cabinet has not even been in place for a week but is already setting the stage for an all out regional war.
“Iran hawks cannot win an argument about the fact Iran is complying with the Iran deal and that abandoning the agreement would be a disaster. Thus far they have resorted to relitigating the terms of the deal by claiming to want to fix it, now they are relitigating the history of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Washington, D.C. – With many Iranian Americans finding in recent months that their mail to family in Iran is being returned to them with obscure instructions from the U.S. Postal Service, NIAC has taken formal action to call on the U.S. government to once again allow Americans to send mail to Iran.
Americans have been free to send mail to Iran via the U.S. Postal Service for years despite a U.S. embargo against the country. For the past several months, NIAC has been in contact with relevant agencies to determine why Iranian Americans were having their envelopes and packages to Iran returned. Through that process, NIAC learned that the Trump Administration quietly began enforcing a prohibition blocking such deliveries to Iran beginning in August of 2017. The prohibition requires that individuals sending mail to Iran must go through the process of filing an “Electronic Export Information” (EEI) form if sending anything of value, including gifts under $100 or even greeting cards.
In a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Customs and Border Protection Agency, NIAC is now requesting that an exemption be issued to allow Americans to once against send mail to Iran without an EEI. The requirement to obtain an EEI authorization has technically been U.S. policy for years but has been superseded by other U.S. policies – including a General License issued by the Treasury Department to allow most personal mail to Iran.
The agencies NIAC has contacted have the authority to issue exceptions to the policy if it causes undue burden, which appears self-evident given the inability of many Iranian Americans or Americans with friends and family in Iran to successfully send mail and packages. NIAC will continue its efforts to press the agencies for a solution until our members’ problems have been resolved.
The full text of the letter is here.
Today, after a more than a year of fighting back against the Muslim Ban, our community finally got our day in the highest court in the United States, which will decide whether a Muslim Ban will become the official immigration policy of our country.
As you recall, in one of President Trump’s first acts as president, he attempted his first Muslim Ban on January 27, 2017. On March 6, 2017, it was replaced with another executive order after successive losses in court. The embattled second Muslim Ban was again replaced with a third attempt, which also included an obscure and highly subjective case-by-case waiver process. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) challenged every version of this unprecedented and unconstitutional ban in court.
But the Trump Administration did not stop there. As litigation was running its course as to the executive orders and proclamation, the Administration was busy looking for alternative means to accomplish the stated goal of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
In May, NIAC was alarmed to learn of a new ‘extreme vetting’ policy proposal put forth by the Department of State which granted sweeping authority to consular officers to deny visas to applicants from the same Muslim-majority countries designated by the Muslim Ban. In response to this obscure and secretive new policy, NIAC sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the State Department requesting they produce documents related to ‘extreme vetting’ so that we could evaluate whether this administrative measure was being used as a “backdoor Muslim Ban.”
The State Department never produced the requested documents, so last week, NIAC sued.
In addition to court challenges, we made our voices heard in the halls of Congress. We told members of Congress about the stories we heard from the Iranian-American community of families being torn apart, patients not receiving life-saving medical treatment, and the world’s brightest students and researchers being stuck in a constant state of uncertainty. We told them about the drastic drop in visas issued to Muslim-majority countries by the Administration.
But more significantly, NIAC shared with Congress how the obscure case-by-case waiver process – which grants unrestricted discretion to consular officers with no set guidelines, policies, procedures or criteria on how to evaluate visa applicants – is being utilized to issue mass denials to visa applicants from Muslim-majority countries. Data produced in response to a congressional inquiry revealed that only two waivers had been issued, with this figure later being adjusted, without verifiable date, to 450 waivers.
For the past several months, NIAC has been voicing the concerns of the Iranian-American community on Capitol Hill and circulating a draft of reporting requirement legislation which we produced that, if enacted into law, would impose a requirement on the Trump Administration to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the waiver process, extreme vetting, and the broader Muslim Ban policy and how they are all being implemented.
Irrespective of how the Supreme Court decides the Muslim Ban case later this year, Congress must step up and fulfill their duty as a co-equal branch of government and fully repeal the Muslim Ban and all of its various components.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Washington, D.C – NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement following Donald Trump’s comments on Iran today:
“Donald Trump is setting up a dangerous catch-22 with Iran. Trump is threatening war if Iran restarts nuclear activities on one hand while he unravels the very agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran on the other. This is more than a war of words, Donald Trump is setting us up for a very real military conflict.
“Macron and Europe seem willing to bend over backwards to save the nuclear deal and prevent catastrophe. When our closest allies express alarm in unison, we should listen. Trump should quit while he is ahead and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the JCPOA before it is too late. The alternative would be an isolated America, an unchecked Iranian nuclear program, and an escalation towards war.”
On May 12, President Trump is expected not to renew sanctions waivers that are critical to the continuation of the JCPOA, effectively withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal. Mike Pompeo is President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State and John Bolton is already serving as National Security Adviser and will likely counsel the President to leave the deal and prioritize military power over diplomacy. This also comes at a time when the wars in Syria and Yemen continue without a clear end in sight, Saudi Arabia and Iran are effectively engaged in a proxy war, and regional conflict involving Israel appears more likely than ever.
Join us on Monday, May 14, 2018 from Noon to 1:30 PM in Rayburn House Office Building Room 2226 for one of the first discussions on President Trump’s decision. Both the US and Israel have conducted strikes in Syria within the last month. Will we see greater conflict between the US and Iran? Is a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah now more likely? What does this mean for Washington’s alliances with Europe?
Host of UpFront on Al Jazeera
President and CEO, International Crisis Group and former Special Assistant to the President, Senior Adviser to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign, and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region
Former Editor-in-Chief of Al Jazeera America
Independent Scholar and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Politico (Moderator)
* Particularly for those guests who are not Hill staffers, please allow sufficient time to get through security.
Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Research Director Reza Marashi released the following statement:
“The situation in Syria is tremendously dangerous, and President Trump risks throwing fuel on the regional fire. Given that Iranian and Russian forces are closely embedded with the Syrian government, there is a significant risk that any strikes will trigger retaliation and a bloodier, wider war with few discernible ways to deescalate the conflict.
“The American people do not want to start new wars. There is no Congressional authorization or UN Security Council resolution for such an action. Upholding the important principle that there is no place in this world for chemical weapons must not come at the expense of ignoring the principles of the Constitution and the United Nations.
“A large part of the reason that Syria is in ruins today is because nearly all actors have pursued military solutions instead of diplomacy aimed at halting the bloodshed. An eye for an eye approach will not bring justice or peace to Syria, and there is no moral high ground for those who respond to abhorrent violence with more violence.
“Just as the United States should abstain from reckless escalation, Assad’s primary backers in Russia and Iran have a duty to rein in their patron. This is particularly true for Iran, one of the biggest victims of chemical warfare, which should exert real pressure to halt the butchery of the Syrian people via both chemical and conventional weapons.”
Washington, D.C. – Early this morning, the National Iranian American Council filed National Iranian American Council v. United States Department of State to compel the Trump Administration to turn over requested documents which would provide vital information about how the ‘extreme vetting’ policy is being implemented, how information is being gathered through the DS-5535 form, and the impact that this policy is having on Iranian nationals, as well as nationals from the five other designated predominantly-Muslim countries.
“NIAC fully intends on getting to the truth of how ‘extreme vetting’ is being interpreted, implemented, and enforced,” Shayan Modarres, NIAC legal counsel said. “If the records obtained confirm that the Trump administration is indeed imposing a backdoor Muslim ban through administrative measures imposing an administrative Muslim ban through ‘extreme vetting’ and DS-5535 forms, NIAC will pursue all available legal remedies to protect the Iranian-American and other impacted communities.”
Last June, NIAC sent its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the State Department seeking a variety of relevant documents which could confirm suspicions – and available data – that the Trump Administration is using ‘extreme vetting’ to deny visa requests on constitutionally impermissible grounds.
Data seems to show that President Donald Trump has found a backdoor to fulfilling his campaign promise of banning Muslims from entering the United States. Prior to unveiling Muslim Ban 3.0, President Trump tweeted in June about his desire to abandon the “watered down” revised Muslim ban and return back to the original, more discriminatory and unconstitutional, Muslim ban. Trump then noted that despite the court orders, the administration is pursuing ‘extreme vetting.’
“As the Supreme Court prepares to consider whether Trump’s Muslim ban can move forward, we also must be fighting against the backdoor ban policies like ‘extreme vetting’ and any other, discriminatory and constitutionally offensive policies,” said Modarres. “We look forward to our day in court to compel the production of these critically important documents.”
Washington, DC – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor:
“Donald Trump may have just effectively declared war on Iran. With the appointment of John Bolton, and nomination of Mike Pompeo at State, Trump is clearly putting together a war cabinet. As the world awaits Trump’s May 12 decision as to whether he will abandon the Iran nuclear deal, all of the signs now point to a decision to move to war footing.
“Bolton is an unhinged advocate for waging World War III. He has explicitly called for bombing Iran for the past ten years and has suggested the U.S. engage in nuclear first strikes in North Korea. Bolton’s first order of business will be to convince Trump to exit the Iran nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for the war he has urged over the past decade. Additionally, he has has called for ending all visas for Iranians, shipping bunker busting weapons to Israel, and supporting the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorist organization and other separatist groups inside of Iran. The Iranian-American community and our pro-peace, pro-human rights allies will organize to stop Bolton’s plans from becoming a reality.
“Congress must do everything in its power to convince Trump to reconsider this decision and exert maximal pressure to constrain Bolton’s ability to impose irreparable harm to the U.S. and global security. To begin with, the Senate must block Mike Pompeo from becoming Secretary of State.
“Bolton now represents the greatest threat to the United States. This is a dangerous time for our country and a slap in the face even to Trump’s supporters who thought he would break from waging disastrous foreign wars and military occupations.“Bolton was a key player in the march to the disastrous war in Iraq that Trump has criticized as a major foreign policy blunder. He famously demonstrated that he was a ‘kiss-up, kick-down sorta guy’ who dismissed intelligence on Iraq’s WMD program that didn’t fit his predetermined policy preference. The fact that one of Trump’s key advisers is likely to stroke the President’s ego while blocking key intelligence or intimidating any objective analysts that might be underneath him is of deep concern. Of further concern, Bolton fails to acknowledge that the Iraq war was a mistake and only regrets that the Bush administration didn’t overthrow more countries while it was in office.
“Bolton’s ties to the cultish MEK should also immediately disqualify him. Bolton routinely meets with and accepts payments from the group – which has murdered Iranians and American service members alike and is deeply unpopular among ordinary Iranians. Yet, Bolton sees this illegitimate group that commits human rights abuses against its own members as a ‘viable opposition’ that he wants to use to overthrow the Iranian government. Bolton promised an MEK crowd last July, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!’”
Washington, DC – Seven national Iranian-American organizations have sent a letter to the Trump Administration on March 22, 2018, calling for an independent investigation regarding the discriminatory targeting of Iranian-American civil servant, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. Her reassignment from the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff into a less influential role were first reported in April, 2017. Recently, Politico revealed emails between Administration officials prior to Nowrouzzadeh’s reassignment calling into question Nowrouzzadeh’s political loyalty and claiming she was “born in Iran.” The ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees have also demanded answers from the White House as to whether Nowrouzzadeh was targeted in response to outside political attacks and her heritage.
The Iranian-American organizational letter is below:
March 22, 2018
The Honorable John Kelly
Chief of Staff
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable John Sullivan
Department of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear General Kelly and Acting Secretary Sullivan,
We, the undersigned Iranian-American organizations write with the utmost concern regarding the administration’s clear political and discriminatory targeting of civil servant Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. Career public servants are afforded protections against politically-motivated firings, and numerous protections have made it illegal for workers both inside and outside the government to be fired on behalf of their race, heritage, or religion.
On March 15, 2018, the ranking members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Elijah Cummings, and House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, sent a letter on this subject to the White House Chief of Staff, General John F. Kelly, and the Deputy Secretary of State, John J. Sullivan. In their letter, they revealed receiving new documents indicating that “high level officials at the White House and State Department worked with a network of conservative activists to conduct a “cleaning” of employees…” including Ms. Nowrouzzadeh.
Nowrouzzadeh is a distinguished Iranian American whose invaluable contributions to American national security led to her promotion to prominent positions in the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense. She served in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, thus demonstrating her proven track-record of adapting her work to the priorities of the sitting president, rather than any political party or preference. Given her prior experience and knowledge of Persian, she could have been an invaluable asset to the Trump administration.
Yet, recent evidence indicates Trump administration officials sought her ouster based on discriminatory intent. Recent documents reveal that when Nowrouzzadeh asked her supervisor Brian Hook for help when confronted with personal attacks from political groups seeking her ouster, officials at the State Department and White House did not defend her but instead used character smears to force her out of her position on the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department.
Julia Haller, White House Liaison, wrote that Nowrouzzadeh “was born in Iran,” which is false and, even if accurate, should have no bearing on this matter. Haller’s suggestion that Nowrouzzadeh’s Iranian heritage should be a factor in assessing whether Nowrouzzadeh could loyally serve in the U.S. government betrays discriminatory intent that appears to be in clear violation of federal protections.
Finally, internal emails reveal that, despite terminating Ms. Nowrouzzadeh’s position on the Policy Planning Staff three months early for the foregoing improper reasons, State Department officials then tried to offer a misleading characterization of her actions: that she had been “return[ed] to a parent office of a civil servant at the completion of a detail assignment” – an objectively false statement. Such an ex post facto “cleaning” of the objective facts further raises red flags and evidences discriminatory intent, which is not only improper but also unlawful under federal law.
As organizations dedicated to ensuring that Iranian Americans contribute their extraordinary talents to civic life in the United States, failure to ensure accountability on Nowrouzzadeh’s unjust ouster risks deterring a generation of Iranian Americans eager to contribute to government service, national security, and civic life in the United States.
We urge the White House and State Department to fully comply with the requests from the ranking members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Elijah Cummings, and House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, in their letter on this subject dated March 15, 2018. We also urge the administration to empower an independent investigation into the ouster of Nowrouzzadeh and other civil servants that holds those involved appropriately accountable.
Our groups would be willing to meet with you regarding these concerns in the hopes of charting out an acceptable path forward.
Center for Human Rights in Iran
Iranian Alliances Across Borders
Iranian American Bar Association
National Iranian American Council
Pars Equality Center
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans
United For Iran
NIAC joins a broad community of family, friends and fans who are grieving the recent passing of Ali Youssefi. Ali passed away on March 10 at the age of 35 following a several month battle with cancer.
Ali was born in Sacramento, a city he cherished, championed and transformed with innovative development projects that brought renewed attention to California’s state capital. He had a strong vision and philosophy on Sacramento’s urban renaissance, sharing, “If we embrace the idea of building mixed-income neighborhoods, Sacramento will be an even more diverse and integrated city than it is today.” Ali, a graduate of Dartmouth, was part of the proud ownership group of the Sacramento Kings, a team he cherished. Ali made a lasting impact on the future of the city he loved. Sacramento’s Mayor Darryl Steinberg shared, “The loss of Ali Youssefi is a terrible blow to our city. Ali was a friend whose generosity, vision, and determination helped shape Sacramento into the vibrant and inclusive community it is today.”
In addition to being a leader in his local community, Ali was also an active philanthropist and civic leader who believed in elevating the participation of the Iranian-American community in American civic life. He was an adamant advocate of diplomacy and peace and the supporter of many organizations including NIAC and Ploughshares Fund. “Whether it’s an issue related to development or civil rights or Iranian American affairs, I have a voice and am able to communicate with our representatives to raise issues that are important to us,” he recently said. As former NIAC Board Chair, Ali used his voice to consistently and bravely advocate for our entire community.
“Ali was an outstanding philanthropist, a brilliant developer, and a compassionate leader,” NIAC President Trita Parsi said. “But he was much more than that. He was an amazing human being whose courage and strength lifted up everyone around him. Ali joined NIAC at a time when our fight for diplomacy and a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis could not have looked any dimmer. To most, it was an impossible to fight. To Ali, it was a necessary fight. His courage, strength and laser sharp focus helped guide us though those difficulties and towords victory. It has been an honor and privilege having gotten to know and work with Ali. The Iranian-American community could not have lost a more beautiful soul.”
“In losing Ali, we have lost not only a fierce advocate for our community, but one of the most good and compassionate people I have been honored to know. Ali lived a life of purpose and deep meaning, with a commitment to service and a love for the Iranian-American community that was truly awe-inspiring. The entire NIAC family mourns his loss and stands committed to continuing the work that he advocated and the values he exemplified,” shares Shokooh Miry, NIAC Board Chair.
NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi shares, “Ali may have been young, but he leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire all of us who worked with him. His passing is a reminder of the good we can do and a challenge for all of us to do better. He believed in the community he was a part of. He not only worked to literally build the city around him, he also fought for and defended the values he believed were core to our Iranian-American community. I will forever think of Ali – how he was methodical but passionate, practical but idealistic, successful but always modest – and work to honor him and his legacy in everything we do.”
Ali Youssefi was so much more than the sum of his remarkable accomplishments. He was the funniest, kindest and most humble person in nearly any setting he was a part of. He took his work extremely seriously without taking himself too seriously. His desire to make an impact on grand challenges and causes came down to people. He cherished working alongside good people to make a meaningful difference. Despite his intense schedule and responsibilities, Ali somehow made time for everyone from close friends to those he had just met. It has been a common refrain across the outpouring of condolences from those who met Ali only once to those whose relationship with him spanned decades to say that Ali was the best person they had ever known. All of us at NIAC agree. Ali Youssefi is no longer with us in person, but the aspirational idea of Ali will live on in untold ways. Our organization, our community and our world are infinitely better because Ali was here. We miss him dearly.
Ali is survived by his wife, parents and sister, who have asked for time and privacy as they make memorial arrangements and plans for the causes Ali so passionately championed. We offer our heartfelt condolences to them and all who knew Ali as our community mourns this tragic and untimely loss.
To read more about Ali’s remarkable life, see:
http://www.sacbee.com/news/ local/news-columns-blogs/ marcos-breton/ article177634921.html
https://iranian.com/2017/05/ 10/ali-youssefi-reinventing- the-urban-lifestyle/