NIAC Applauds Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling Rejecting Seizure of Ancient Iranian Artifacts

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325

Washington, D.C. — The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) applauds today’s unanimous decision in the Supreme Court of the United States rejecting the seizure of ancient Iranian antiquities, ending an over decade-long legal battle.

NIAC has argued that victims of terror deserve to be heard – that they deserve justice. But in NIAC’s view, the artifacts do not belong to the government of Iran, but the people of Iran, and as a result they cannot be confiscated to compensate victims of terror. Depriving millions of Iranians across the globe – who have no ties to terrorism, and unequivocally condemn terrorism – access to these precious artifacts by selling off their history and heritage to the highest bidder is itself an unjust act. These artifacts have always belonged to the people, and now, after an 8-0 ruling by the Supreme Court, they can continue to be appreciated by the people.

Since 2006, NIAC has supported the opposition to the seizure of the Persepolis tablets — clay tablets written in Aramaic and other ancient languages dating back to the fifth century BC that contain important clues about the religion, administration, society, and economy inside the ancient Persian empire.

The Persepolis tablets have been under threat of seizure for years following a deadly 1997 attack by Hamas suicide bombers in a crowded pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. Victims of the attack and their families filed suit against the government of Iran for providing support to Hamas, and won a default judgment of $71.5 million. Iran did not pay, and the Plaintiffs have been trying to seize the Persepolis tablets, which they alleged were the property of Iran, to satisfy their judgement by auctioning off the artifacts on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

NIAC helped the University of Chicago fight against the seizure of the Persepolis tablets in court, by filing a 2008 amicus brief with the federal appellate court, fought in the halls of Congress, and even fought in the White House. After a hard fought ten years by the University, we are relieved that the Persepolis tablets are finally safe.

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.

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.

BREAKING: IAAB v. Trump Team Praises Ruling Blocking Muslim Ban 3.0

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 18, 2017
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | +1 407 922 8149 | 

Washington, D.C. – Early this morning, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a ruling in Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) v. Trump,blocking the Trump administration from implementing Muslim Ban 3.0, which was scheduled to go into full effect today.  Judge Chuang’s ruling follows a hearing on Monday afternoon in his courtroom where the plaintiffs in IAAB v. Trump as well as two other related actions, requested a preliminary injunction.

In today’s ruling, which temporarily halts the implementation of the President’s order, Judge Chuang determined that Muslim Ban 3.0 likely violates the U.S. Constitution and federal immigration law.  Judge Chuang relied on the long litany of anti-Muslim statements and comments by President Trump, concluding that this latest version is an “inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban.”

The plaintiffs in IAAB v. Trump are represented by Muslim Advocates, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Covington & Burling LLP, in consultation with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  

According to Shayan Modarres, legal counsel for the National Iranian American Council: “We applaud the court’s decision in blocking this unconstitutional third attempt at a Muslim Ban.  This latest travel ban is little more than a dangerous effort to target Iranians and Muslims, unjustified by any credible national security concerns. The ban will have a real impact on real people’s lives, robbing families of moments they can never get back. The National Iranian American Council is resolute in seeing this hateful and unconstitutional policy never becomes law.”

According to Johnathan Smith, legal director of Muslim Advocates: “Today’s ruling reaffirms that religious discrimination and bigotry have no place in our country.  We applaud Judge Chuang for recognizing that Muslim Ban 3.0 contravenes fundamental American values and does not make our country safer.  We, however, are well aware that our work is not finished. We will continue to advocate against this unjust and discriminatory policy until it is finally and permanently relegated to the dustbin of history.

“So, for today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we continue the fight.”

According to Mana Kharrazi, executive director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders: “Today is such a proud day for youth we serve at IAAB. When our members connect with family members, friends and community members from across the Iranian diaspora, it changes futures, enriches lives, and roots them in a meaningful sense of community and responsibility. Our youth spoke up in court and they won. When grounded in community and sense of justice, the young people of IAAB can even beat the most powerful man in the world.

“We know that the ban is not totally gone and that graduations, weddings, and family gatherings will continue to be interrupted, and that our youth will continue to face harassment and hostility. So we will continue to speak out against the ban and religious discrimination in all its forms.”

According to Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United:“The Muslim ban in all its versions has never been about making America safer or protecting our people. It’s about discrimination, plain and simple. The ban violates fairness and equal treatment—concepts that are at the core of religious freedom. We’re pleased that the courts have once again recognized that fact.”   

Judge Chuang’s ruling follows a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of Muslim Ban 3.0 issued by Hawaii Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii v. Trump yesterday afternoon.

For more information, or for interview with a National Iranian American Council legal expert, please contact Yasmina Dardari at 407-922-8149 or by email at


The National Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. 

Iranian Alliances Across Borders is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 2003. IAAB addresses issues of the Iranian diaspora by facilitating community building, developing ways to better understand what it means to be part of a diaspora community, and empowering members of the Iranian diaspora community to enhance connections with their new communities as well as maintain connections with their root community.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

NIAC Condemns Trump’s ‘Targeted’ Muslim Ban 3.0

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-2303

Washington, D.C. – The National Iranian American Council released the following statement regarding President Trump’s adjustments to the discriminatory Muslim Ban following 90 days of review:

“As many have warned, the Trump administration has now taken steps to make its Muslim ban targeting Iranians and other nationals permanent. Absent additional intervention from the courts, and a long-overdue intervention from the Republican-controlled Congress, the Trump administration will cement a racist and discriminatory campaign promise into official U.S. policy. This new Muslim Ban 3.0 is nothing but an extension of the same discriminatory policy first rolled out in January that is a fundamental challenge to American values of equality and tolerance. Once again, Trump has put his ego ahead of the security of the United States and the safety of the American people.

“Amending this ban does not change what its intent has been since its inception, which was clearly to ban Muslims. The Trump Administration has simply tried to make the President’s racist proclamation to ban all Muslims more palatable. The bottom line remains that Donald Trump is banning the family members of Iranian Americans and others from visiting the United States based on his own prejudice. By applying the ban to more people Trump has simply doubled down on his efforts to halt legal immigration, including temporary visits, to the greatest extent possible.

“This third iteration of the ban includes minor but wholly inefficient exceptions, including exempting Iranian students and exchange visitors from the ban under enhanced scrutiny. Family members will apparently be banned, in spite of a previous Supreme Court ruling preventing the Administration from banning persons with bona fide relations in the U.S. Iranian Americans who came to the land of the free never imagined that the U.S. would become a country that bars its doors and formally endorses and codifies xenophobic policies.

Trump’s new ban is not designed to make America safer, it’s designed to make Trump appear tougher. Banning entire nationalities from visiting the U.S. is absurd and will not make America more secure under any circumstances. The countries included in Trump’s latest ban are merely those with whom the US has bad relations, not from where threats have actually emanates. Iran, for instance, is a country that has very poor relations with the US and yet there is no credible threat from Iranians visiting the US. Not a single person has died on American soil due to an Iranian terror attack. 94% of all Americans killed on U.S. soil in acts of terror by a foreign national, were conducted by nationals of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. But the very real threat from radicalization taking place in Saudi Arabia is not addressed by Trump, nor is it eliminated by the information sharing that does take place between Washington and Riyadh. Trump’s new ban seems designed to make him look tough, but not designed to actually make America safer.

“In short, Trump’s new ban does not pass the 9/11 test: Had this measure been in place in 2001, it would not have prevented the 9/11 attack.  

“While it has long been telegraphed, the fact that restrictions on Iranians were continued indefinitely is a perfect demonstration of why these ‘bans’ are terrible homeland security policy. Trump himself has praised Iranian Americans as ‘one of the most successful immigrant groups in our country’s contemporary history.’ Secretary of State Tillerson described the Iranian people as a ‘very well educated, very sophisticated population’ just this week. And, despite the fact that no Iranians or any other nationals included in Trump’s ban were responsible for any terror-related deaths on U.S. soil, Trump keeps trying to ban Iranians.

“We are confident that the courts will see through this disingenuous tactic of expanding the ban in order to dilute its clearly discriminatory motive. Casting a wider net only validates what we and others have always maintained, which is that the Muslim Ban was but the first step in a wider initiative to implement Islamophobic, racist, and xenophobic policies that pander to the desires of Trump’s White supremacist base. These are not ‘targeted’ restrictions but arbitrary ones that do not keep the country safer and soil our national reputation.”



NIAC Condemns Trump’s Immoral DACA Decision

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: 202-780-9590

Washington, D.C. – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the Trump administration decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program today – a program with bipartisan support that has been wildly successful in every meaningful and measurable way. 

“Today will be judged as one of the most reprehensible days in American history,” said Shayan Modarres, Legal Counsel for the National Iranian American Council. “President Trump’s issuance of executive orders to ban Muslims from the United States, and removal of protections for DREAMers – that know no other home but America and are now confronted with dehumanizing uncertainty – is not draining the swamp, it is dumping the greatness of America down the drain.” 

In taking this immoral action, President Trump is removing protections for nearly 800,000 DACA recipients whose futures are now full of uncertainty and who could possibly face deportation. DACA recognized that these individuals are human beings and more American than a piece of paper could ever recognize. 

“As a community of recent immigrants, Iranian Americans are very familiar with confronting anti-immigrant sentiments and policies,” said Modarres. “In fact, we are still fighting against the Muslim ban and its multiple components like ‘extreme vetting.’”

Since 2010, NIAC has advocated for Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. DREAMers include Iranians like Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant who was denied entrance into college despite qualifying credentials. 

“Iranian Americans across the United States not only stand with DREAMers in unwavering solidarity, we quite literally are DREAMers,” said Modarres.  “We will not allow the Trump administration to take us backwards as a nation – we will not allow him to destroy centuries of steady American progress in a matter of months.”

NIAC calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation that will protect DREAMers and provide for a pathway to citizenship. NIAC further urges our elected representatives to resist any invitation to use these inspirational young people as a political bargaining chip – Congress must do the right thing and immediately act to protect these young people. 

Iranian American Organizations Condemn Violence and Bigotry Displayed by Hate Groups in Charlottesville, Virginia

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: 202-780-9590

Washington, D.C. – As organizations representing the Iranian-American community, we stand united in condemning – in the strongest possible terms – the violence and bigotry displayed by hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday and Saturday.

We stand in solidarity with all who believe in the promise of America: that no matter where you come from or what you look like, we are all equal.

The display of hatred in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ultimately claimed three lives, has no place in America. The First Amendment allows for the freedom of expression, speech and peaceful assembly, but it does not tolerate or protect speech inciting violence, or the usage of shields and helmets, rifles, and other weapons in expressing that speech. And regardless of the illegality, as Americans, we stand unified against any person that prescribes to these hateful beliefs.

White supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis or fascists are not patriots. They do not represent the ideals and values that America represents, nor the principles enshrined in our Constitution, and they must be unequivocally denounced and rejected by all who love this country and what it stands for.

President Trump’s failure of moral clarity and leadership as President of the United States must be denounced forthrightly and unequivocally. Morality knows no political party. Racism, bigotry, and violence of any form are intolerable and should be unequivocally condemned by our leaders.

We remain committed to combatting this hateful ideology, in all its forms, and will continue to work with our partners and allies in this fight towards equality and inclusiveness.

Iranian American Bar Association (IABA)
National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Pars Equality Center
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Through Customs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Are Searched

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

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

Electronic Devices

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

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

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

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

Legal Assistance

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

Travel Tips

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


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

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

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

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

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

Republicans Vote Down Amendment to Protect Families from Muslim Ban

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress took its first vote on the Muslim ban yesterday, as an amendment to protect family members from the Muslim ban was voted down by Republican legislators 23-29. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), was offered during a markup of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill and would have would barred the Trump administration from banning close familial relations under the Muslim ban. In addition, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced, but later withdrew after an objection from a Republican lawmaker, an amendment that would go even further by defunding implementation of the entire Muslim ban.

The Pocan amendment would have restricted funding in the DHS Appropriations bill from being used to implement the Executive Order against an individual who is a parent, spouse, fiancé, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin of a United States citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States. Nearly all Republicans on the committee voted against the amendment, except for Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). Rep. Dent was an early supporter of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Trump administration is currently implementing a version of the ban that was narrowed by a temporary Supreme Court ruling that the ban could move forward but could not be applied to persons with “bona fide” relations with an American person or entity. The Trump administration interpreted that ruling to exclude grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and other close familial relations from being exempt from the ban. Today, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that grandparents and other family members of U.S. persons could indeed not be subject to the ban.

Pocan noted the importance of the amendment because the ban’s “arbitrary determination leaves countless people facing the humiliation of navigating a series of arbitrary rules that devalue family relationships.”

“We have the opportunity to broaden that [familial] relationship to match what the courts in Hawaii have decide,” Pocan added in support of his amendment.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) noted that “One of the greatest treasures that we have in life and one that unites all of humanity is our desire to be with our close family,” going on to state, “I strongly support Mr. Pocan’s amendment to ensure that grandparents, in-laws and other close relatives can visit their U.S. relatives.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), ranking member of the Homeland Security subcommittee, also voiced support for the Pocan amendment, stating that the amendment was necessary because “the admin took a narrow view of who counted as close relatives.”

Homeland Security subcommittee chairman John Carter (R-TX) was the only Republican who spoke on either amendment, rising in opposition to both the Lee amendment and Pocan amendment. According to Carter, the Muslim ban restrictions “are a valid exercise of the President’s authority.”

The Barbara Lee Amendment would have gone even further than the Pocan Amendment and would have restricted funding in the DHS Appropriations bill from being used to implement any element of the Muslim ban Executive Order.

According to Lee, her amendment “would prevent funds from being used to implement this very heartless Executive Order because [the ban] is just dangerous and un-american.”

The votes come in spite of the fact that not a single person has been killed in the US by a terrorist attack committed by people from the countries subjected to Trump’s ban.

The amendment vote is a major milestone as it was the first vote on the ban since it was enacted in January. Republican legislators have blocked a vote to rescind the ban on the House and Senate floor, and no hearing has been held on the ban despite its extensive impact on the Iranian-American community and other communities.

In First And Only Vote On Trump’s Muslim Ban, Republicans Fail The Test

Tuesday morning, the House of Representatives did the unthinkable: lawmakers actually held a vote on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

Representative Mark Pocan had the nerve in the Appropriations committee to call for a vote on whether taxpayer dollars should be used to enforce Trump’s Muslim ban against the grandparents and other family members of Americans ― this, after the Supreme Court and lower courts forced Trump to let family members into the country (and social media protests against the grandma ban).

Not shockingly, the amendment failed, because every Republican save one ― Charlie Dent ― voted to protect the president and uphold even the most indefensible elements of the ban. It was the first and only vote Congress has ever held on Trump’s Muslim ban, and the Republican-led Congress ran interference for Trump.

This may sound like a dereliction of duty, but it’s true. In the seven months since Donald Trump took office, Congress has done literally nothing as Trump has engaged in multiple attempts to make good on his campaign promise of banning Muslims from the U.S. The first Muslim ban wreaked havoc at our airports and prevented green card holders from returning home. After the courts blocked it, his second Muslim ban blocked grandmothers from visiting their American grandchildren and separated families across continents.

Meanwhile, even as successive courts have issued orders to pause or limit the Muslim ban, the Trump administration has still managed to reduce visas to Muslim-majority countries by 20 percent and “banned” countries by more than 50 percent. As an Iranian American, I can tell you that there is not a single member of my community that I am aware of who hasn’t been impacted by this ban and the extreme vetting policies that have accompanied it over these past seven months.

Yet in that time, Congress has literally taken zero actions on the Muslim ban. They have not held a single hearing, they have not launched any investigations into what is actually going on, and Republican leadership has blocked any attempt to vote on legislation to repeal the ban.

In all the chaos of the Trump administration, an important fact has been obscured: Congress actually has the power to pass legislation (!) and has the authority to rescind and defund any of Trump’s executive orders ― including the Muslim ban.

Were Congress to summon the political will to act, the Muslim ban would be over with for good. Instead, millions of families wait in limbo to find out what the Supreme Court will ultimately decide when it takes up this issue in the fall. Affected communities get whiplash keeping track of what elements of the ban have been suspended, what countries Trump may ban permanently, which members of our family are banned and which can get in, and what other back and forth will take place between the courts and the White House. Congress has the power to put an end to all of this and give Americans with families in Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen some peace of mind.

It shouldn’t be so hard for Congress to act. It seems like just yesterday that Paul Ryan and Mike Pence spoke out so courageously against Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslims from the United States. Of course, that was before Donald Trump became president. The fact that Ryan, Pence, and so many others in the GOP have flip flopped on this issue (especially when, behind closed doors, many will tell you that they oppose the ban) makes the obvious painfully clear: as with all things in Washington, this comes down to politics. That is why so many members of Trump’s party have avoided talking about or taking any position on Trump’s unpopular ban.

That’s why it is so important to not allow lawmakers to avoid taking tough votes on the Muslim ban and to hold them accountable. Thanks to Rep. Pocan’s amendment yesterday, we now have a list of 29 lawmakers who are all now on the record as supporters of banning grandmas from America. That includes lawmakers like Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston) who represents over 6,000 Iranian Americans and whose voters gave him a pass in 2016 but voted against Donald Trump in the presidential.

2018 is going to be a very tough election for Trump’s party. Unlike 2016, when many Republican lawmakers campaigned on the premise that Donald Trump was an outlier and not reflective of themselves, in the 2018 elections they will have to run on their record under Trump. Lawmakers who vote in lockstep with Trump to protect his most heinous policies, like the Muslim ban, will no longer get a pass. That’s why we must pose a simple choice: our elected representatives can either break with the president and stand up with against the ban, or we will be held accountable at the ballot box. If that happens, it is very likely that at least the House will flip. And if that happens, you can all but guarantee there will be hearings, investigations, and, yes, votes on Trump’s Muslim ban.

Members who voted to protect Trump’s grandma ban:

Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey

Harold Rogers, Kentucky

Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama

Kay Granger, Texas

Michael K. Simpson, Idaho

John Abney Culberson, Texas

John R. Carter, Texas

Ken Calvert, California

Tom Cole, Oklahoma

Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida

Tom Graves, Georgia

Kevin Yoder, Kansas

Steve Womack, Arkansas

Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska

Thomas J. Rooney, Florida

Charles J. Fleischmann, Tennessee

Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington

David P. Joyce, Ohio

David G. Valadao, California

Andy Harris, MD, Maryland

Martha Roby, Alabama

Mark E. Amodei, Nevada

Chris Stewart, Utah

David Young, Iowa

Evan H. Jenkins, West Virginia

Steven Palazzo, Mississippi

Dan Newhouse, Washington

John R. Moolenaar, Michigan

Scott Taylor, Virginia

NIAC Statement on Passing of Maryam Mirzakhani

Contact: Elham Khatami
Phone: 202 386 6325

Washington, D.C. – Elham Khatami released this statement following the untimely death of Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics:

“We offer our sincerest condolences to the friends and family of Stanford Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, who was the first woman and first Iranian to win the prestigious Fields Medal. In her short 40 years, she left an indelible mark on the world.

“Professor Mirzakhani grew up in Iran, attended Harvard, and eventually made the United States her permanent home. While her achievements are extraordinary, her story is common. Thousands of Iranians have come to the US and made immense contributions to our society, especially in the sciences. Luckily for the nation, Professor Mirzakhani was one of those ambitious young people who was given the chance to realize her full potential in the US. The best way for the country to honor her legacy and contributions is to keep the door of opportunity open to others like her so that they may continue her life’s work.” 

Congress Reacts to Trump’s “Grandma ban”

Washington, D.C. – Numerous congressional Democrats have condemned the Trump administration’s latest iteration of the “Muslim ban” that bars grandparents and extended family members from Iran and other banned countries from entering the United States. However, despite opposition, legislation to rescind the ban remains blocked by Republican leadership.
During a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) questioned a top Trump administration nominee about the Department of Homeland Security’s interpretation of bona fide relationships. 
“Aunts and uncles in many cultures, including our own – and grandparents – are really considered almost equal to parents,” said Harris.
At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, she asked the nominee for Under Secretary for Intelligence & Analysis at U.S. Department of Homeland Security, David J. Glawe about the rationale behind the definition of “close family” in the guidelines for the Muslim ban’s implementation.
“Is there a rationale for excluding grandparents and aunts and uncles from the definition close family relationship?,” asked Harris to which Glawe replied “I am not aware of the criteria that was used for that policy decision.”
Senators Tammy Duckworth and Ben Cardin have expressed similar sentiments. Cardin objected to the administration’s decision, stating, “I think the directive that’s been given tries to cut back on what the Supreme Court intended.”
Duckworth issued a statement on Facebook, writing, “Let me get this straight: siblings and parents-in-laws are considered ‘bona fide’ relationships according to President Trump, but grandparents and grandchildren aren’t? This President’s Muslim ban is completely illogical, un-American and an utter disgrace.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a statement calling the exclusion of grandparents, aunts and uncles from the definition “cruel”, urging members to “seriously consider using the Congress’ power of the purse to rein in Trump’s discriminatory overreach”.
The ban came back into effect on June 29 after the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration could move forward so long as it did not bar entry for persons with “bona fide” relationships with American persons or entities. The Trump Administration decided that grandparents and extended family members were not considered “bona fide” relationships and would thus be barred. 
The ban will initially be in place for 90 days and is already having consequences for individuals entering the United States. The administration has indicated that certain countries, like Iran, could likely be subject to the ban indefinitely through a Presidential decree after the 90 days period lapses. 
The state of Hawaii recently challenged the DHS’s limited definition of bona fide relationship, but has thus far been unsuccessful. 
Legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to rescind the ban and defund the executive order. It has been endorsed by nearly every Congressional Democrat, but so far lacks Republican support and no hearings or votes have been held on the issue.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the full case against the ban in the coming fall session. In the meantime, the ball is in Congress’ court.