NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

MENA Category Rejected by Census Bureau Despite Clear Benefits

Washington, DC – The US Census Bureau once again declined to add a Middle East and North African (MENA) category for the 2020 census. Many Americans of Middle-Eastern descent, including Iranian Americans, have for decades sought the additional category so that the census more accurately reflects America’s mosaic of different cultures and the voices of Iranian Americans are not ignored by lawmakers.

According to the US Census Bureau guide on race and ethnicity,’ White’ refers to people from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Other racial categories also encompass massive geographic zones, for example, ‘Asian’ includes people from South and East Asia. In other words, an Irish American is labeled the same as an Iranian American, and an Indian American is categorized the same as a Japanese American. By including broad racial categories without making room for the reality of ethnic and regional diversity, the Census Bureau runs the risk of marginalizing minority groups by combining them into bigger and less meaningful racial categories.

Unlike other ethnicities, the Census Bureau does make a distinction between Hispanics/ Latinos and non-Hispanics/Latinos. According to the Census Bureau, “people who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.” For example, an American of Afro-Colombian descent might report themselves as ‘Black or African American’ and ‘Hispanic or Latino’. Someone of primarily European ancestry who is also a Cuban American might report themselves as ‘White’ and ‘Hispanic or Latino’.

Adding this category did not happen overnight and was a result of a strong push by Latino advocacy groups throughout the 1970s which culminated in the category being added in the 1980 census. Ian Haney Lopez, a law professor at Berkeley, has written extensively on the legal construction of race in the US. According to him, race is an important census category but adding ethnicity can also have benefits. In 2009, Lopez wrote that “the census shows, for example, that 36 percent of Dominicans but only half that proportion of Cubans live below the poverty line in the United States. What is true of Latinos is true of other groups. No racial group is internally homogenous; whites, blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders all vary along internal fault lines.” In other words, this has allowed for a significantly more accurate and nuanced snapshot of Latino Americans.

Rather than limiting Iranian Americans to a racial category that includes 61% of the U.S. population, a MENA category could lead to the same benefits for Iranian Americans as the ‘Hispanic or Latino’ category created for Latino Americans. This is particularly important for communities that traditionally produce fewer elected lawmakers and are unknown or misunderstood by the broader population. However, some have expressed concerns about creating a MENA category during the Trump administration out of fear of its potential abuse. While these concerns are certainly justified, the information provided to the Census Bureau is private and protected by law (Title 13, U.S. Code, Section 9). NIAC believes that the benefits the category would bring to the Iranian-American community far outweigh the risks and will continue to advocate for its inclusion.

NIAC has long recognized the importance of being accurately counted as a community, especially in congressional districts where high numbers of Iranians reside but are often discounted by their elected representatives. In 2003, NIAC published a report with population estimates for states and congressional districts known to host large Iranian-American communities. However, this proved difficult since many Iranian Americans did not write-in their origin on the 2000 Census. Leading up to the 2010 Census, NIAC and other Iranian-American organizations partnered with the United States Department of Commerce to increase awareness about the 2010 Census and the option to write-in ethnicity. The idea behind self-identifying as Iranian American (or other MENA backgrounds) is that if enough respondents chose to do so then the Census Bureau might see the utility in creating a separate MENA category. NIAC Action and other Iranian-American groups recently encouraged Iranian Americans to submit public comments to the Office of Management and Budget in support of proposals for a MENA category on the census which could include the opportunity to check or write-in ‘Iranian’. However, these proposals have repeatedly been rejected by the Census Bureau, which says more research and testing is needed.

The 2018 Census will ask individuals who mark themselves as ‘White’ to also include their origins with the official prompt instructing respondents to “Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.” This is the first time the Census Bureau has sought clarification for the ‘White’ racial category and may be a result of an increase in Americans choosing to check the ‘Some Other Race’ category. But some critics warn this will only lead to confusing data.

NIAC Begins Voter Education Campaign in Northern California Counties

The Iranian-American community is grossly underrepresented in politics. But we can easily change this by registering and turning out to vote in large numbers and making sure our community is as visible as possible during the upcoming election season. That is why I am excited to announce that NIAC will be supporting California’s Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) in Northern California as the first of several major efforts we will be undertaking in 2018 to ensure Iranian Americans have a major impact at the polls in the upcoming elections.

The idea behind VCA is to increase voter participation in California elections by increasing access to voting. NIAC will be running a voter education campaign in two counties with relatively large Iranian-American populations – San Mateo and Sacramento County – to ensure our communities there know about the new changes to their voting options.

The VCA expands voting options for Californians in certain counties. All registered voters in the participating counties will be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot, which they can either mail or drop at one of many drop-boxes across the county. Prefer to vote in person? No problem! There will also be vote centers opening across the county. Voters can choose to vote at whichever center is most convenient for them, rather than being assigned a specific polling location. Vote centers will be open 3 days before election day, with some opening 11-29 days before election day, depending on the county. So far, Sacramento, San Mateo, Napa, Nevada, and Madera county will be participating in the VCA during the 2018 election. If you’re interested in learning more about the VCA, check out https://voterschoice.org/.

NIAC’s work will involve translating materials to Persian, contacting voters, holding educational events, and participating in Voter’s Choice California coalition meetings and actions to collaborate with other organizations and make sure our community has adequate representation in outreach plans. We have even received grant funding from the Future of California Elections and the Hopewell Fund to make sure we have the resources to fund this program.

The counties are still in their initial planning stages of the VCA, developing their Election Administration Plans (EAPs). Recently, we submitted a public comment addressing both San Mateo and Sacramento’s EAPs with suggestions on how to conduct outreach to the Iranian-American community and participated in a public hearing to outline these recommendations. We plan on submitting a public comment once Sacramento County completes its updated EAP.

As we get closer to election day, we’re going to need a lot of help to make sure we reach out to as many Iranian-American voters as possible. So if you live near San Mateo or Sacramento County and wish to get involved, sign up to volunteer at https://www.niacouncil.org/volunteer-with-niac! Have questions? Email our Northern California Field Organizer, Dornaz Memarzia, at dmemarzia@niacouncil.org.

NIAC Seeks Clarification on Postal Service Rejections of Packages to Iran

Washington, DC – Connections between Iranian Americans and their family members in Iran may have hit another roadblock thanks to the Trump Administration. According to numerous complaints received by NIAC, Iranian Americans have had their shipments of personal items to Iran blocked by the U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection, apparently on the basis that the items lack sufficient approval.

NIAC is contacting relevant agencies to determine if there has been a change to U.S. policy concerning shipping mail to Iran. The rejections of such packages undercut the long-standing U.S. policy of allowing the shipment of personal gifts, remittances and other permitted items to friends and family in Iran.

In a letter sent to Census Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Service, we highlight that general licenses issued by the Treasury Department permit the export of gifts to Iran under the value of $100 and thus do not require separate authorization. Moreover, it clarifies that separate regulations do not appear to contradict the general license. The letter requests clarification from the agencies as to the regulatory authority under which these authorized exports to Iran are being rejected. NIAC will seek answers and conduct follow-up to resolve this issue that has affected many members of the Iranian-American community.

The text of the letters is below:

January 25, 2018

We are writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”) – the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans – regarding apparent policy changes at the United States Census Bureau and/or the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) concerning licensed exports to Iran.  Recently, we have received contact from a number of Iranian Americans detailing CBP and the U.S. Postal Services’s rejection of intended shipments to Iran on the grounds that such shipments lacked an “electronic export information (EEI) filing or exemption per the U.S. Census Bureau.”  In light of the fact that Iranian Americans have been able to ship licensed items to family in Iran for decades without this issue, we request clarification from the relevant U.S. authorities regarding the applicable laws and/or regulations under which this apparent new policy is being promulgated and enforced.

       As an immigrant community to the United States, many Iranian Americans retain close ties to family members and friends based in Iran.  As a result, Iranian Americans habitually send gifts, personal remittances, and other licensed items to families and friends in Iran.  For decades, U.S. policy has facilitated the shipment of such items to Iran, including via general license and statutory exemptions.  U.S. policy has sought to ensure that familial and personal ties between U.S. and Iranian persons are not undermined by the broader disputes in the U.S.-Iran relationship. Iranian Americans have thus been able to ship permissible items to Iran free from the hassle of requiring specific license authorization or other export-related filings.

       However, it appears that there has been a recent shift in U.S. policy.  Many Iranian Americans have contacted us, noting that their shipments to Iran of personal gifts, etc., have been rejected by CBP and the USPS.  This rejection apparently stems from the fact that such shipments lack a validated export license and/or an Electronic Export Information (“EEI”) filing.  As Iranian Americans whose packages have been rejected note, never before have their shipments to Iran been rejected for these reasons, and the burden of having to make an EEI filing to ship gifts to family and friends in Iran is significant enough to erode their willingness to do so.       

       It is unclear the legal basis for this recent shift in U.S. policy.  Most transactions with or otherwise involving Iran are regulated exclusively by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), which administers and enforces a comprehensive trade and investment embargo with Iran – the prohibitions of which are promulgated via the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560.  Due to OFAC’s primacy in Iran-related regulatory matters, “if OFAC authorizes an export or re-export [to Iran], such authorization is considered authorization for purposes of the [Export Administration Regulations] as well.”[1]  

       While the ITSR prohibits most transactions with Iran from the United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located, certain categories of transactions are deemed either exempt from the prohibitions as a matter of statute or authorized by OFAC via general license.  For instance, the export from the United States to Iran of certain information and informational materials – including, but not limited to, newspapers, magazines, films, etc. – are exempt from the ITSR’s regulations,[2] while the export from the United States to Iran of goods sent as gifts to persons in Iran are authorized via general license, provided that the value of such gifts is not more than $100 and the gifts are of such type and quantities as normally given as gifts between individuals.[3]  U.S. parties seeking to export items to Iran consistent with applicable exemptions and general licenses promulgated under the ITSR do not require specific authorization from OFAC or any other U.S. regulatory authority prior to the export of such items to Iran.

       It does not appear that regulations promulgated by the U.S. Census Bureau contradict this law.  Indeed, CBP’s own website notes that an EEI filing is required for U.S. exports in two specific cases: (1) where the value of the commodity classified under each individual Schedule B number is over $2,500; and (2) where a validated export license is required to export the commodity.[4]  While we have not received clarification from any of the relevant U.S. agencies regarding the reasoning behind their rejection of lawful U.S. exports to Iran, it appears that such exports are being rejected out of a belief that a validated export license is required to export exempt or licensed goods to Iran.  If true, that would be inconsistent with the plain language of the Census Bureau’s own regulations and would contradict long-standing practice by the relevant agencies permitting Iranian Americans to export licensed goods to Iran absent an EEI filing.

       We thus request clarification as to the regulatory authority under which the Census Bureau, CBP, and the U.S. Postal Service are rejecting authorized exports to Iran.  We trust that this issue can be resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to all relevant parties and that the relevant U.S. agencies can issue a policy statement specific to the Iranian American community regarding the laws and regulations surrounding exports of licensed goods to Iran.  Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.  

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi

National Iranian American Council

[1] 15 C.F.R. § 746.7(a)(2).

[2] 31 C.F.R. § 560.210.

[3] 31 C.F.R. § 560.506.

[4]CBP Info Center: When to Apply for an Electronic Export Information (EEI), United States Customs and Border Protection, last updated Sept. 29, 2017, https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/292/~/when-to-apply-for-an-electronic-export-information-%28eei%29.

 

NIAC Letter to Adobe on End User License Agreement

 
On December 27, 2017, the National Iranian American Council wrote Adobe Systems, Inc. expressing concern that its End User Licensing Agreement requires users of Adobe products to certify they “are not a national of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or any other country to which the United States embargoes goods.” As stated in the letter, NIAC is concerned that this requirement discriminates against Iranian nationals – including those in the United States – and is not required by U.S. sanctions laws.

NIAC hopes to work with Adobe to ameliorate the concerns of the Iranian-American community while adhering to existing sanctions obligations. You can see the letter as a PDF here or below:

December 27, 2017    

Mr. Jace Johnson

Adobe Systems Incorporated
345 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95110-2704

Dear Mr. Johnson:

We are writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”) – the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans – regarding Adobe’s End User License Agreement, which appears to discriminate against nationals of Iran, including those persons who are lawfully resident in the United States. Specifically, Adobe’s End User License Agreement requires a person – prior to downloading or otherwise using an Adobe software product – to certify that they “are not a national of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or any other country to which the United States embargoes goods.”[1] It is our view that Adobe has a mistaken view as to the scope of current U.S. trade sanctions targeting Iran, and we hope to work with Adobe to ensure that its End User License Agreement(s) is consistent with U.S. sanctions laws and other trade restrictions and refrains from taking an overbroad view of U.S. law in a manner that discriminates against Iranian Americans.  

It is true that the United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran – the provisions of which are codified in the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. Pursuant to the ITSR, U.S. persons – including Adobe – are generally prohibited from engaging in the export, re-export, sale, or supply of goods, services, or technology – including software – to Iran or the Government of Iran, absent an applicable exemption or a license authorization.[2] This includes situations where a U.S. person exports goods, services, or technology to third-country parties with knowledge or reason to know that the goods are specifically intended for re-export or transshipment to Iran. 

However, Adobe’s End User License Agreement appears to suggest that the export, re-export, sale, or supply of its software products to nationals of Iran – even if lawfully resident in the United States – is prohibited under U.S. law. That is not a correct statement of U.S. law, but instead risks discriminating against U.S. persons, particularly Iranian Americans, lawfully resident in the United States.[3] More appropriately, Adobe’s End User License Agreement should – subject to the condition outlined below – require persons downloading or otherwise using Adobe’s software products to certify that they are not downloading the product while based in Iran or intent on re-exporting or otherwise transferring the software product to parties based in Iran. 

In addition, we would also urge Adobe to consider the effect of the issuance of General License D-1, “General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications,” which authorized the export, re-export, sale, or supply of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications to Iran.[4] It is our view that General License D-1 may render permissible the export, re-export, sale, or supply of many, if not all, Adobe software products to Iran and would negate the need for Iran to be included in Adobe’s End-User License Agreement at all. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with representatives from Adobe to ensure that Adobe acts consistent with current U.S. sanctions laws and trade restrictions without taking an overbroad reading of any potentially applicable sanctions prohibitions.

We look forward to working with Adobe to address the concerns of the Iranian-American community. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.

Most Respectfully,

Jamal Abdi

Policy Director, NIAC

 

[1] Adobe, End User License Agreement, https://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/license.html.

[2] 31 C.F.R. § 560.204.

[3] It is apparent that Adobe’s End User License Agreement is not only incorrect, but also out of date. For example, the United States no longer imposes trade embargoes on Iraq or Sudan – two of the countries identified in the End User License Agreement as embargoed countries. We would thus urge Adobe to revisit and accordingly revise its End User License Agreement to render it consistent with current U.S. sanctions laws and trade restrictions.   

[4] General License D-1, “General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications,” U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Feb, 7, 2014, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/iran_gld1.pdf.  

NIAC Applauds 9th Circuit for Ruling Against Muslim Ban (Again)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Shayan Modarres
Email: smodarres@niacouncil.org
Phone: (407) 408-0494

Washington, D.C. – Shayan Modarres, legal counsel for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement following the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the lower court ruling blocking President Trump’s third Muslim ban:

“We are reassured by the Ninth Circuit’s ruling today upholding Judge Watson’s decision to block President Trump’s third attempt at banning Muslims. Today marks another victory for democracy and fundamental American principles. The U.S. Constitution and the President’s attempts to achieve a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States simply cannot coexist.

“The Ninth Circuit has now been charged with upholding and defending our Constitution against this unconstitutional Muslim ban on two separate occasions. Both times they have answered the call by rejecting this administration’s attempts at banning Muslims.

“On the other hand, in the face of protests erupting in airports across the country, families being torn apart, weddings being postponed or canceled, and individuals being prevented from receiving much needed medical treatment, Congress has failed to act, and consequently, has allowed this unconstitutional expedition to ban Muslims to continue since January 27.

“We celebrate today’s victory which brings affected families and impacted communities one step closer to reunification. But we remain cognizant of the fight ahead. Congress must immediately act to defund this unconstitutional Muslim ban that tears families apart and makes America much less safe.

“In the same vein, we also call on Congress to immediately pass a clean DREAM Act and to terminate all other discriminatory Trump immigration policies. The promise of America does not belong to any one group. For this great American experiment to last, we must all feel welcomed and safe. The Congressional carelessness and neglect that has allowed our democracy to erode must end.”

NIAC Statement on Nikki Haley’s Missile Speech

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reza Marashi
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: info@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council Research Director Reza Marashi issued the following statement regarding Ambassador Nikki Haley’s presentation at the Defense Intelligence Agency accusing Iran of supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen:

“Ambassador Haley’s dearth of foreign policy experience is no excuse for her shambolic performance today. Rather than displaying the dignity and poise of America’s face at the United Nations, she had her Colin Powell 2003 moment, demonstrating that too many of our leaders have still not learned the lessons of the Iraq war disaster. This stunt is particularly galling as it comes on the same day that reports emerged that the U.S. secretly sent advanced weaponry into Syria that ended up in the hands of ISIS and are now a direct threat to American troops and allies.

“Contrary to Amb. Haley’s claims, the UN Secretary General’s report did not assert anything irrefutable or definitive about any Iranian violations. Instead, the report indicates that the United Nations is ‘still analyzing the information provided’ in reports from various nations. As is the case with so many claims from the Trump administration, it appears that the facts are being chosen to fit a predetermined narrative or policy goal.

“It is indisputable that more arms in the region will do nothing to advance peace. Iran should halt any weapons shipments that it is sending to the Houthis or other armed groups in the region. However, Iran alone cannot be expected to halt its fueling of its proxy war with Saudi Arabia, and is unlikely to do so through unilateral demands alone. Accordingly, the Trump administration should also end its direct support for the Saudi-led humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and end its missile sales in the region that are arming some of the world’s worst despots. If Ambassador Haley and the Trump administration are truly concerned about Iran’s regional activities and missile program, they should pursue direct dialogue with Iran rather than repeat the same mistakes of the past.

“The U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen has not just produced mass human suffering in America’s name, it has empowered Iran in a country where it previously had very little influence. The Saudi-led debacle has also empowered al-Qaeda – the same al-Qaeda that attacked the United States on 9/11 with 15 Saudi nationals, and continues to plot attacks on the homeland today. Moreover, U.S. missile sales in a volatile region to the increasingly aggressive Saudi Arabia and the UAE have provided the Iranian government with a pretext to further develop its own missile program and cite U.S. military sales as justification.

“The Trump administration should immediately pursue bilateral and multilateral dialogue with the Iranian government on all issues of contention with no preconditions. The track record is clear. Talking about Iran with other countries only led to more missiles and more centrifuges in Iran during the Bush administration. Talking with Iran and other countries simultaneously produced compromises on missiles and less centrifuges under the Obama administration. Haley and her Republican colleagues in government would be wise to heed the words of Albert Einstein: ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

###

FAQ on Recent Supreme Court Decision on Muslim Ban 3

What Does Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision Mean?

The Supreme Court issued a stay of the injunctions in the 9th Circuit and the 4th Circuit. What that means is that they have halted, or vacated, the lower courts’ blocks on the ban – or in other words, the Trump administration may temporarily enforce Muslim Ban 3.0. The Supreme Court did NOT make a determination on the merits of the cases or the constitutionality of the Muslim ban, so this is NOT a “final decision.” The case will still be heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on December 6th, our case will still be heard by the 4th Circuit in Richmond on December 8th, and there will be a decision by the two Courts of Appeal. If we get favorable decisions, the government may then appeal to the Supreme Court to make a final determination about the constitutionality of Muslim Ban 3.0.

My Family Member Has a Visa and is Scheduled to Travel to the U.S. How Will This Impact Them?

If your family member has a valid visa that has already been issued to them, that visa will not be revoked under Muslim Ban 3.0. However, it is important to note that a valid visa does not guarantee them entry. We fully expect that valid visa holders will be permitted to enter absent some other circumstances, but a risk of being blocked from entry does exist. Note, if you have been approved for a visa but are not in physical possession of it, your visa may now be rejected under the implementation of Muslim Ban 3.0.

It is a good idea to advise your family member to keep a phone nearby and to call you if they are facing any difficulties with entry into the United States. In the event that your family member has a valid visa and is detained or turned back at the airport, we urge you to contact NIAC immediately and notify us. Remember, if you or your family member has a green card or is a U.S. citizen, Muslim Ban 3.0 DOES NOT affect green card holders and U.S. citizens. If you are a dual national of Iran and another country, you will still be constrained by the HR158 Visa Waiver law which requires you to have a valid visa to enter the United States.

*** It is critically important to know your rights at the airport. For further information please consult this advisory: Know Your Rights at the Airport and the Border

Who is Currently Banned?

Unless you are applying for an F, M, or J visa as a student or visitor exchange, all visas (both immigrant and non-immigrant) are suspended indefinitely.

If you are covered by the ban while it is in effect, you may be able to apply for a hardship waiver under Muslim Ban 3.0 at the time of the visa interview. There is no set form or process for applying for case-by-case waivers, but generally, you could provide a letter to the consular official outlining:
1) Why denying entry into the U.S. would cause an undue hardship
2) That entry would not pose a national security threat or threat to public safety
3) Entry would be in the national interest of the United States
Muslim Ban 3.0 could be blocked again, so it is critical to continue checking NIAC’s website and communications for the latest updates on our case before the 4th Circuit, and for updates on the current status of the Muslim Ban as a whole.

Do I Still Need to Prove a Bona Fide Relationship?

The ‘bona fide relationship’ standard does not apply after the initial October 18 deadline under Muslim Ban 3.0. All immigrant and non-immigrant visas to Iranian nationals are suspended with the exception of F, M and J visas, and case-by-case waivers granted by consular officers.

How Long Will the Ban be in Effect under the SCOTUS Order?

Under its terms, the Supreme Court’s Order will terminate once a Court of Appeals strikes down Muslim Ban 3.0 and it is appealed to the Supreme Court. Whether or not the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, yesterday’s Order allowing the Trump administration to enforce Muslim Ban 3.0 will terminate automatically. If the Courts do not side with the Plaintiffs, then the Court of Appeals decisions upholding the Muslim ban will control until the Plaintiffs appeal to the Supreme Court.

In short, the Muslim Ban will not disappear this year or next year, and we will need to continue fighting back against all aspects of this overarching policy objective of this administration: to ban Muslims, and by and large, Iranians. It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case in the event plaintiffs are victorious in the Court of Appeal, or if they will allow the decisions of the Courts of Appeal to stand without intervention.

How Can I Help Defeat This Discriminatory Ban?

Tell Congress to stop Trump’s Muslim ban by clicking here and taking action today.

Sanders Calls for Sanctions Relief to Assist Iran Earthquake Recovery

Thank you, Bernie!

On behalf of the National Iranian American Council and the Iranian-American community, we express our deepest gratitude to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for spearheading a letter, signed by four of his colleagues, to Secretary Rex Tillerson urging that restrictions and sanctions impeding aid to earthquake victims in Iran be eased. Sanctions on Iran have significantly limited the ability of Americans to send relief to the people of Iran in their hour of need. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN).

The Senators hope that the Trump administration will follow the example of the Bush and Obama administrations, which both eased sanctions after massive earthquakes hit Iran. According to the letter, “Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different.”

You can read the letter below:

View as PDF

November 16, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write today concerning the recent earthquake that struck Iran on November 12. The latest reports indicate over 500 dead and thousands wounded, making this earthquake the world’s deadliest of the year. We urge you temporarily waive any existing restrictions that would impede relief donations in order to speed the delivery of aid.

While the earthquake affected both Iran and Iraq, most of the casualties are on the Iranian side of the border. After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both temporarily waived sanctions, and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued general licenses to simplify aid delivery.

Under the Bush administration, an OFAC license authorized U.S. persons to provide cash donations to nongovernmental organizations, U.S. and non-U.S., assisting with relief efforts in Iran. At the time, OFAC also worked with aid organizations to clarify rules on donations of food and medicine and which Iranian entities could receive aid and eased banking constraints to ensure the timely receipt of donations in Iran. While we understand that a general license issued by OFAC in 2013 allows for U.S. nongovernment organization to deliver aid to Iran, we urge you make it easier for U.S. citizens to contribute to nongovernment organizations not based in the United States that are currently providing relief aid to earthquake victims in Iran.

Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different. We ask that you direct the Department of State to assist in aid efforts and to coordinate such efforts with OFAC and other relevant agencies in order to ensure aid arrives quickly.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.
Sincerely,

BERNARD SANDERS
United States Senator

ELIZABETH WARREN
United States Senator

AL FRANKEN
United States Senator

THOMAS CARPER
United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN
United States Senator

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

Source: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/statistics/non-immigrant-visas.html

      
 
 

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