Iranian Americans Increasingly at the Center of Systematic Discrimination Across the U.S.

Today we learned that the federal officers who inexplicably gunned down a young Iranian-American man at point blank range will not be held accountable. Bijan Ghaisar’s parents and family have sought answers for over two years and have been stonewalled by their own government. Bijan’s murder is just one part of a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence being carried out by American police forces against primarily black but increasingly also against brown men. For Iranian Americans who looked on as other men of colorincluding Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—were killed by police officers and thought it would never happen to us, Bijan’s death is a wakeup call.

Iranian Americans are caught in the crosshairs of some of the most urgent national political and social challenges America faces today.  From police violence to family separation owed to draconian immigration policies at home to brutal imperialism abroad, our community has a dutyand a unique opportunityto fight back and protect the values we believe in for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Today’s despairing announcement came on the heels of another official release concerning a civil servant, Sahar Nowruzzadeh, who was targeted by her bosses at the State Department and ultimately demoted because of her Iranian heritage. This is the same state department that illegally funded IranDisinfoa group that attacked Iranian American journalists, organizations, and human rights activists with taxpayer dollars.

The department’s inspector general released its findings from an investigation into the matter and found conclusively that Brian Hookthe lead official charged with formulating Iran policy under Trump and Pompeo discriminated against Sahar because he believed she was born in Iran. Will there be any accountability for Hook’s actions? Or will he too be let off the hook and become just one more perpetrator not held accountable for his offenses against Iranian Americans? 

As Americans, we entrust authorities with powers on the promise that they will not be abused and if they are, we the people hold the ultimate authority to take that power back. In looking at just the above two examples, Iranian Americans can connect the dots as to a whole host of trends underscoring how the authorities who we have elected into office and paid for with our tax dollars are abusing those powers. State sanctioned violence at home is matched by the eagerness to use state sanctioned violence against powerless populations abroad. 

The targeting of a civil servant based on her perceived national origin is a symptom of the same sickness that has produced a Muslim Ban against all Iranian nationals abroad. The securitization of how police treat black and brown men is part of the same phenomenon that has led us to separate children from their mothers and fathers at the border in the name of national security.

We have a responsibility to grapple with these challenges beyond wringing our hands or lamenting how this impacts our community. We must do something about it in coalition with and support of all communities. Building political power for Iranian Americans should top our community’s list of priorities, particularly for those who see the trends and believe enough is enough. 

Iranian Americans are being targeted, but we also are a community of immense privilege and we owe it not just to ourselves, but also to our compatriots facing similar challenges, to put that privilege to use in service of justice. If we organizepull together our political giving, organize our communities locally and nationally to communicate with our elected officials and hold them accountable, and educate ourselves and the broader public about political engagementIranian Americans can make a major impact in restoring justice and accountability. With 2020 around the corner, we must not simply internalize the outrage of Bijan’s murder or the scandal of the targeting of Iranian American civil servants. We need to fight back. 

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

بانک‌ها در برابر ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها تبعیض قائل می‌شوند – این اقدامی است که ما در مورد آن انجام می‌دهیم

,دوست عزیز

سال‌هاست که بسیاری از ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها، تنها به دلیل تبارِ ایرانی‌شان، با بسته‌شدن حساب‌های بانکی خود مواجه می‌شوند. این نوعی تبعیضِ آزاردهنده است که می‌تواند فرد را در حالی که منتظر آزادشدن پس‌انداز و سرمایه‌ی زندگی‌اش است، با مشکلات مالی بسیاری روبه‌رو کند.

بانک‌ها در گفت‌وگو با ما توضیح می‌دهند که این کار، نوعی اقدام احتیاطی برای پیروی از تحریم‌های آمریکاست که اشخاص را از کار کردن با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران منع می‌کند. در حالی که قانون این اقدام را طلب نمی‌کند، بسیاری از بانک‌ها ریسک تبعیض علیه ایرانیان آمریکا را به ریسک نقض تحریم‌ها ترجیح می‌دهند.

به همین خاطر، امروز شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا (نایاک) تقاضانامه‌ای را تنظیم می‌کند که از وزارت خزانه‌داری می‌خواهد تا با تغییر رسمی قانون، به آمریکاییان اجازه دهد که بتوانند با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران کار کنند. این عمل، هزینه‌ای برای ایالات متحده ندارد و باید به کارکرد بانک‌ها در قبال بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها و شهروندان ایرانی ساکن آمریکا پایان دهد. علی‌رغم این‌که انتظار داریم بازبینی این روند طولانی و زمان‌بر باشد، اما بر این باوریم که در نهایت می‌توانیم این قانون را تغییر دهیم و به اقدام تبعیض‌آمیز بانک‌ها در قبال جامعه‌مان پایان بخشیم.

علاوه بر این، بیشترین شکایت‌هایی که تاکنون دریافت کرده‌ایم، به عملکرد بانک آمریکا باز می‌گردد. با وجود تلاش‌های متعدد از سال ۲۰۱۴ در جهت مجاب‌کردن بانک آمریکا برای تغییر سیاست‌هایش در قبال اشخاصی که عضو جامعه‌ی ما هستند، این بانک کماکان بدون هشدار یا با اطلاع رسانی کوتاه، به بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها ادامه می‌دهد.

به همین دلیل، ما بار دیگر نامه‌ای به بانک آمریکا فرستاده‌ایم تا برای این نهاد روشن کنیم که تحریم‌ها، آنان را به بستن حساب شهروندان معمولی مقیم آمریکا مجبور نمی‌کند و تصریح کرده‌ایم که برای حفاظت از منافع جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا، گزینه‌ی اقدام حقوقی را باز گذاشته‌ایم تا به رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز این بانک پایان دهیم.

اگر شما از جانب یک بانک با تبعیض مشابه روبه‌رو شده‌اید یا حساب‌تان مسدود شده، از شما می‌خواهیم که روایت‌تان را با ما در میان بگذارید تا بتوانیم پرونده مستندی تهیه کنیم برای اثبات این موضوع که این رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز باید خاتمه یابد. هر چه مثال‌های بیشتری داشته باشیم، پرونده‌هایمان برای تقاضای تغییر قانون در وزارت خزانه‌داری و پایان‌دادن به تبعیض‌های بانک آمریکا، محکم‌تر می‌شود.

داستان خود را این‌جا به اشتراک بگذارید

این را بدانید که ما از تلاش برای شما بازنخواهیم ایستاد؛ خواه در برابر وزارت خزانه‌داری دولت ترامپ باشد، خواه بانک آمریکا، یا هر کس دیگری که به جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا آسیب وارد کند.

با احترام،
جمال عبدی
رئیس شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا

گزینه کمک‌های مالی

NIAC Calls for Treasury to Protect Iranian Americans from Bank Account Closures

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Re:      Request for Rulemaking—Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

            31 C.F.R. Parts 501 and 560

Dear Ms. Gacki:

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”)—the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans—respectfully petitions the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the issuance of a rule providing license authorization for certain transactions prohibited pursuant to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. This request is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 555(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 501.804(b), the latter of which is applicable to the ITSR by virtue of 31 C.F.R. § 560.101.

NIAC requests that OFAC promulgate a rule providing license authorization for U.S. persons to operate accounts of persons in Iran consistent with license authorizations that have been promulgated with respect to other U.S.-embargoed countries and jurisdictions, including, for instance, Syria and the Crimea region of Ukraine. We believe that such a license authorization will help resolve a problem that has become endemic to the Iranian-American community—namely, the difficulties Iranian Americans have had opening and maintaining bank accounts at U.S. financial institutions. 

Over the past few years, NIAC has heard from countless Iranian-American citizens and Iranian nationals in the United States who have faced continuous harassing inquiries from their banking institutions regarding their legal status and physical presence in the United States and have had their banking accounts shuttered and their life savings mailed back to them via the postal service. Such actions cause tremendous disruptions in the lives of U.S. citizens and Iranian nationals present in the United States, impacting their finances and very well-being, for no reason other than their Iranian heritage. Some individuals who have had their bank accounts shuttered have never even traveled to Iran. 

Banks have justified their behavior with near-unanimous resort to the requirements of U.S. law under the ITSR, including, for instance, the prohibition on the provision of financial services to Iran. While NIAC has repeatedly pointed out to U.S. financial institutions that the ITSR does not require them to deny financial services to Iranian Americans who are neither ordinarily resident nor physically present in Iran, this has not mitigated banks’ practices. U.S. banks have made a ‘risk-based decision’ based on U.S. sanctions under which servicing the accounts of Iranian Americans is not worth the risk inherent in falling afoul of the law.  

We believe that it is OFAC’s responsibility to remedy this situation. We are herein proposing that OFAC adopt a rule similar in scope of that found in the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 542, or the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589. For instance, § 542.515 of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations authorizes the operation of accounts in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than a blocked individual, provided that transactions processed through the account (1) are of a personal nature; (2) do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless otherwise authorized; and (3) are not otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. We believe that such a general license authorization can mitigate the risk that U.S. banks believe to be associated with handling the accounts of Iranian Americans.  

We also believe that this proposed license authorization is an important starting point with which OFAC may consider a remedy to this ongoing problem. NIAC welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with OFAC regarding the best path forward to ensuring that Iranian Americans are not unduly harmed by the U.S.’s trade embargo with Iran. Being unable to procure basic banking services in the United States—a country in which Iranian Americans live (and for some, have only lived)—is understandably an issue of immediate concern, and we trust that OFAC will dedicate the necessary resources to working towards an imminent solution.   

As part of this request for rulemaking, NIAC also intends to provide supplementary materials to OFAC to underline the immediate nature of the problem and to provide additional proposals to resolve the issue. This may include testimony for members of the Iranian-American community who have been especially affected by the practices of U.S. banking institutions. NIAC is also prepared to respond to any inquiries or requests for clarification that OFAC may have regarding this matter.

We thank OFAC ahead of time for its consideration of this issue, and we look forward to being in touch with the agency regarding a mutually satisfactory path forward.  

Sincerely,  

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am 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 Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

Important Update on Green Card Legislation

A new version of the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044 — previously known as H.R. 392) has been introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ken Buck (R-CO) in the House of Representatives and Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in the Senate.

It is largely identical to past versions in that it will remove the per-country limit on employment-based permanent residency, which would add significant wait time to individuals from smaller countries like Iran, while benefiting individuals from larger countries like India and China. In the 115th Congress, the legislation was added to the House homeland security appropriation before NIAC Action, the Iranian-American community, and Iranian nationals across the country rallied against it. Particularly given the combination of the Muslim Ban and the community’s reliance on single-entry visas, many were strongly concerned that H.R. 392 would have a hugely negative impact on Iranian nationals in the United States.

We continue to have strong concerns about the impacts of this proposal and are committed to ensuring that the visa and green card process is equitable for Iranians and will advocate accordingly. However, our collective advocacy, meetings, and calls so far have helped to secure one significant exception in the language of the new bill. Under the new language, if you have already filed a petition for employment-based permanent residency that has been approved, the bill would no longer add to your wait time.

What this means: If someone’s petition for an EB-1/2/3/4/5 visa is approved prior to Sep. 30, 2019 then they wouldn’t have to wait for the visa any longer than they do currently if the bill passes.

We recognize that while this change may lessen the impact of the bill’s passage on individuals over the near-term, many of our longer-term concerns regarding the bill’s impact on Iranian nationals’ path to a green card remain. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on this change and what impact it will have on you to inform our forthcoming discussions with legislators and their staff.

An Update on Slack

We thank Slack for working to restore service to those erroneously cut off and for apologizing for their mistake. User access and data must be restored and we hope that Slack will look closely at whether such compliance efforts were necessary in the first place.

While we acknowledge their explanation that users we’re not barred based on ethnicity or national origin, the fact is that, time and time again, the over-enforcement of Iran sanctions manifests itself in actions that discriminate against Iranians and Iranian Americans.

Companies must not err on the side of discrimination.

Unfortunately, Slack and many other companies have been forced to try to comply with a web of sanctions that are neither narrowly crafted nor clear in their targets. The impact of such a policy cannot be narrowly confined within Iran’s borders – spillover effects have and will continue as long as it is in place.

Critically, it makes zero sense for a communication program like Slack to be barred from Iranians in the first place – the Trump administration must take a look at its sanctions and determine how to ensure they do not harm ordinary Iranians both outside and inside Iran’s borders.

Sanctions Bar Educational Platform from Servicing Iranians

A nonprofit online education platform, edX, cited a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. After sending an open letter to the company, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has been working with edX to resolve complications arising from the suspension.

According to a response from edX, its specific license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for Iran expired prior to being granted a renewal. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran prohibit U.S. companies, such as edX, from exporting services to Iran, including educational services to Iranian nationals located in Iran, which impacted the availability of some edX courses. In order to comply with U.S. sanctions absent a specific license for work involving Iran, across a learner base of over 17 million users, edX identified individuals who could be resident in Iran based on self-identified country residence and IP address and barred them from coursework.

This appears to have included at least some individuals who are not currently resident in Iran (but whose last activity on edX indicated an Iran IP address), including at least one U.S. citizen based outside Iran. However, NIAC has found no evidence of discriminatory intent by edX, and NIAC staff has been assured by edX that it is willing to work to resolve any remaining complications for individuals who should be legally permitted to access edX’s online coursework. If you or a friend believe that they have been erroneously barred from edX coursework, please do not hesitate to contact either NIAC staff (info@niacouncil.org) or edX Support (info@edx.org).

NIAC notes that the availability of coursework to Iranian nationals, regardless of their country of residence, ultimately serves U.S. interests by building bridges to and empowering the Iranian people. Unfortunately, by failing to issue broad enough general licenses to permit edX and similar educational platforms to make its coursework available to Iranians, OFAC has once again ensured that sanctions harm the Iranian people but not the regime. We encourage OFAC to issue necessary licenses for platforms like edX and to carve out broad exemptions to enable Iranian nationals the ability to access educational and communications tools.

EdX Response to NIAC

NIAC Sends Letter to Corporations Lobbying for H.R. 392

Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued an open letter directed at corporations that have lobbied on behalf of H.R. 392, including Microsoft, Amazon, Texas Instruments, IBM, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. H.R. 392, also known as the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, would remove a fundamental pillar of our immigration system and risk creating a monopoly over the green card process for nationals from one or two large countries. However unintentionally, support for H.R. 392 would also exacerbate the impact of the Muslim Ban for Iranians who can neither leave the country nor receive visits from family, and thereby help advance Donald Trump’s stated goal of a “shutdown” for Muslims entering the United States.

NIAC received concerns from many of our members following the bill’s inclusion in the House Homeland Security appropriation bill. However, it remains unclear whether the provision will ultimately pass into law.

NIAC’s letter below urges these corporations to reconsider their support for legislation that would, if passed, hurt many of their own employees already targeted by unfair immigration policies:

An Open Letter to the Corporations Supporting H

NIAC Concerned by edX Move to Bar Iranians from Coursework

 

UPDATE: edX responded to NIAC’s letter, citing a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. See more here.

In response to messages received from its members, NIAC sent a letter today to edX, an online educational platform founded by Harvard University and MIT, expressing concern regarding its decision to terminate or reject the participation of students with Iranian background from its online coursework in an apparent attempt to comply with U.S. sanctions.

The decision has not just impacted individuals from Iran, but also Iranian Americans, in what appears to be an over-enforcement of U.S. sanctions with discriminatory impact on those with Iranian heritage. Given reports it appears that at least one Iranian American has been impacted by this policy. As a result, we are seeking information on  edX’s criteria for determining where specific students are based, Iran or otherwise. We strongly urge that edX alters its policies immediately to ensure that they are not over-enforcing sanctions or discriminating based on nationality and NIAC stands ready to assist edX in making that happen.

edX is one more example of the many companies that have or may go beyond standard sanctions compliance, especially as the first wave of pre-Iran deal sanctions are reimplemented. Many individuals of Iranian descent have been impacted by banks closing their accounts with little to no advance notice out of misguided fears that these individuals would seek to access their banking accounts while in Iran in violation of sanctions. Similarly, edX’s broad approach to compliance creates an environment conducive to discriminatory protocols and criteria, significantly impacting the every-day life Iranian Americans living in the U.S. Unintended, negative impacts of sanctions will remain a pervasive threat to Iranians and the Iranian-American community until the day that they are lifted.

Please see the letter below:

edX Letter (2)