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.

Despite Legal Blows, Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Alive And Well

There is an old legal adage that says, “If the law is on your side, argue the law. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If neither is on your side, pound the table and create a diversion.” When it comes to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, neither the law nor facts were ever on his side. But the ongoing litigation and recent Supreme Court decision are being used as a smoke and mirrors diversion for the actual Muslim ban that is currently being implemented behind the curtain. Civil rights groups are now following the administration’s paper trail, which may trigger a new round of litigation to defeat Trump’s Muslim ban.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which is exactly what Trump called for, is likely unconstitutional. After several months of litigation, the first and second attempts at a Muslim ban were stricken down by a number of U.S. District Court judges, and those decisions have been upheld by an en banc panel of judges in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And just this week, the Supreme Court decided that it will hear the Muslim ban case and disappointingly allowed key provisions of the ban to be implemented, placing the status of many Americans’ families into question once again. 

In a desperate search for a cheap political win, President Trump has tried to nonsensically tether his Muslim ban to national security. But the national security justifications for a Muslim ban have proven to be farcical and devoid of any basis in reality. The CATO Institute has found that not one person – including refugees – from the seven Muslim-majority countries listed in President Trump’s initial Muslim ban has killed anyone in a terror attack on U.S. soil in about a half century.

During the same time, only 17 people have been convicted of participating in or attempting a terror attack. This means that an American living in the United States today has about a one in 3.6 million, or .00003 percent chance of being killed by a terror attackcarried out by a foreigner. 

President Trump’s targeting of Muslims in this disgraceful episode in American history has – in a very literal sense – made America less safe.  The Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census of hate groups in the United States found that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled from 34 in 2015, to 101 last year. In 2015, Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president. FBI data for 2015 reports 257 incidents of hate crimes against Muslims, a 67 percent rise from the prior year. The right-wing extremism and demagoguery peddled by Trump has made over three million American Muslims less safe in the United States.

With neither the facts nor the law on his side, Trump is using Twitter to “pound on the table,” control the news cycle, and divert attention from the Muslim ban that has already begun. In effect, victories in court have given the American people the impression that the Muslim ban has been defeated, but in reality, visa officials have been carrying it out – administratively – for over a month.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a series of four internal cables in March to visa-issuing posts overseas. Among the directives, visa officers would subject nationals of the six Muslim-majority countries to mandatory Security Advisory Opinions (SAO), which is comparable to the inter-agency background checks that U.S. government employee undergo prior to obtaining a security clearance. In addition, visa applicants may be asked “extreme vetting” supplemental questions about their travel history – both domestic and international – for the past 15 years as well as being required to document the funding for said travel, employment and residential history, and social media identifiers and handles.

The goal? Imposing a special additional layer of scrutiny just for Muslim visa-applicants, making it extremely difficult – if not impossible – for them to get a visa.

And it appears to be working. According to Politico, visas issued to Iranians plummeted by 52 percent in April compared to the average monthly rate last year. The number of visas issued to nationals of all Muslim-majority countries dropped by about 20 percentacross in the board.

Legal challenges were initially successful in blocking Part One of the Muslim ban – the executive orders – prior to the Supreme Court allowing key provisions of the ban to be implemented. Part Two – the “extreme vetting” pathway – further widens the floodgates, giving the Trump administration two viable paths to fulfilling his campaign promise of banning Muslims.

While many are fixated on the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to allow parts of the executive order to move forward, some groups have already begun exploring a second wave of legal challenges to the “extreme vetting” Muslim ban. The National Iranian American Council last week sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of State seeking documents about how “extreme vetting” is being interpreted, implemented, and enforced.

The solution to blocking the backdoor Muslim ban is simple: Members of Congress could pass legislation to block both layers of the Muslim ban and forego the need for further judicial intervention and administrative uncertainty. If Congress’ failure to do its job continues, groups challenging the ban will investigate the administration’s paper trail and take the appropriate action to obstruct any Muslim ban from becoming the official policy of the United States of America. 

If documents show that visa applicants from Muslim-majority countries are disproportionately being subjected to mandatory SAO processes, “extreme vetting” supplemental questions, and being denied visas based on an unconstitutional basis, a second wave of complaints will soon be filed in courts across the country seeking to permanently put an end to the Muslim ban in its entirety – in addition to the inevitable new legal challenges stemming from the Supreme Court’s newly established “bona fide relationship” standard.

As long as Congress forfeits its responsibility to preserve and protect the most fundamental American ideals, the American people will continue to serve as a barrier to demagoguery. But it would sure be nice to have a little help from our missing elected officials.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Fact Sheet: The Supreme Court Lifts Freeze on Trump’s Muslim Ban

Moments ago, the Supreme Court lifted the freeze on some key provisions of the Muslim ban executive order. This could affect you or your loved ones. Please see the following Fact Sheet for key information about the Supreme Court’s ruling.

  • The freeze on Section 2(c) of the second executive order (EO-2), often referred to as the travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, has been lifted by the Supreme Court in cases where the foreign national has “no connection to the United States at all.”

  • Today’s decision does not affect Green Card holders or dual citizens.
  • The Supreme Court has ordered that the travel ban cannot be enforced against foreign nationals who have a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
  • A foreign national must show a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The Court, however, did not provide guidance on what criteria will guide credibility, and who will be responsible for making these credibility determinations.
  • The relationship, however, must be “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO-2.”

    • The Court provided an example of “students from the designated countries who have been admitted to the University of Hawaii,” as well as “a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience.”
  • The Court said that a “nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to a client list, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.” In other words, groups cannot disingenuously claim a foreign national as a member just to avoid EO-2.
  • Similarly with respect to refugees, an American individual or entity that has a “bona fide relationship” with a refugee seeking to enter the U.S. will be able to claim a concrete hardship and allow entry for the refugee seeking asylum.
  • Officials like Customs and Border Patrol officers will be tasked with deciding which individuals from the Muslim majority countries have sufficient “bona fide” connections with the United States or whether the relationship was formed just to avoid EO-2.
  • Justice Clarence Thomas, with Justices Alito and Gorsuch joining in agreement, stated that it is the Court’s “implicit conclusion that the [Trump administration] has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed” and that the Muslim ban will inevitably be allowed to fully move forward after the eventual decision of the Supreme Court.

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Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson Headlines Iranian American Event In Seattle

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has once-again made its presence felt in Seattle. NIAC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people, hosted a sold-out downtown fundraiser on Thursday, June 15th; it was NIAC’s first Seattle event in six years.

Ninety plus people gathered at Insignia Towers, home of NIAC Treasurer Saïd Amin, to raise money for the grassroots organization; attendees were also there to show appreciation for Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Solicitor General Noah Purcell for their efforts in defeating President Trump’s Muslim ban. Earlier this year, the state Attorney General made national headlines by bringing down the initial travel ban. (Disclaimer, The Iranian is owned by Amin)

Within minutes of the first executive order travel ban being signed, Ferguson’s team prepared to legally challenge it. On February 3, Federal Judge James Robart sided with Washington State (and with Minnesota) and halted Trump’s executive order nationwide.

Thursday’s event, which raised nearly $50,000 was attended by a diverse crowd, including David Sellers from nearby Ballard, WA. When asked what compelled him to attend the event, Sellers, who is not of Iranian descent, said: “Given the the influx of hate crimes and the continued executive efforts to implement a nationwide travel ban, it’s absolutely crucial to step outside myself and understand the issues Iranian Americans and other immigrant communities are facing. I believe that the NIAC fundraiser is a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

After a period of mingling and delicious Persian food served by Zeitoon Grill, the crowd settled in their chairs to hear Trita Parsi, NIAC President, introduce the keynote speaker, Bob Ferguson. In his welcoming remarks, Parsi quipped that he would like to see a Game of Thrones type chess match where Ferguson, who is an internationally rated chess master, would play President Trump to settle the travel ban, once for all.

Ferguson, who was greeted with a standing ovation, spoke about his office’s efforts to defeat the first travel ban. While many assume that it must of been a tough legal decision to file a lawsuit challenging the President, Ferguson said that, “in many respects, it was not a particularly hard decision.”

Shortly after the announcement of the ban, he and Solicitor General Purcell met to discuss the ban and possibly file a lawsuit to challenge the President.

“The questions that Noah (Purcell) and I talked about in that conversation were: Are Washingtonians being harmed? Yea, they had to be harmed (by this travel ban). They can’t travel freely, right? It’s contrary to us as a country, what we stand for as a country, to have a policy like that. Have we learned our lesson from past experiences along these lines, of excluding people rather than welcoming them? That was number one. Number two, do we have good legal arguments? We’re lawyers, right?” He continued, “…we felt that we had good legal arguments. And third was whether I, as attorney general, could bring the lawsuit on behalf of the people, and we felt we could.”

Ferguson went on to say that, at the time, most legal experts felt their case was weak; including prominent legal figures like CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz. Yet, they proved many wrong, won the case and dealt the President a legal and political blow.

Ferguson emphasized that we are a nation of laws, a democracy with institutions in place that can survive any administration–including this one. He went on to chide President Trump by saying that, “you can not tweet your way out of a federal courtroom” and that, “those comments that he’s made about the travel ban, for example, hurt him in this case. We quoted his tweets, we quoted his advisors […] and they have hurt him in the courts. So when I say you can’t tweet your way out of it, that’s stuff I’m talking about. It can actually hurt you in the courtroom. So every time you see him say something crazy about the travel ban, yes, be mad about that, but know that it hurts him legally in the courtroom.”

Ferguson concluded with a quick story about his 9 year old twins asking why he was away from home so much, spending countless evenings at work. Ferguson’s reply?  “The President did a bad thing and daddy is trying to stop it.”

The next speaker was Noah Purcell, the fast-rising 37-year-old State Solicitor who Ferguson regards as “the most brilliant lawyer I have worked with.” Purcell, whose Iranian-American wife Jasmin Weaver was in attendance, talked about media coverage of Iran, as well his personal connection and understanding of the Iranian American community.

“So much of the media coverage that we get in this country of Iran is so negative. It’s all about the government, and none of it is about the people or the culture, so to be exposed to the actual culture of Iran, and so many wonderful people from Iran who are our age, we (Jasmin) met in High School so we go way back, was an incredible thing. I learned a lot of little things and I also learned lots of important things, like Jasmin’s ‘cousins’ are not actually her ‘cousins’. ‘Cousin’ does not mean ‘cousin’ apparently.”

Purcell continued, “I also learned some very big things, in particular, that knowing something about a government of a country doesn’t tell you anything about the people, and ironically, I hope that the rest of the world understands this about us.” His last point resonated, prompting the audience to burst into laughter and applauds.

Jamal Abdi, Executive Director of NIAC Action, and Parsi were the next speakers. Each took turns talking up the importance of grassroots participation and fundraising.

Parsi poignantly articulated the cost of sitting on the sidelines. “94.1% of all of the deaths caused by terrorism on US soil have been committed by citizens of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. Zero by Iranians. Zero by any of the other countries on that were on that list. So why is this happening to us?” He continued,  “I have been working in Capitol Hill and Washington for 15 years now and I can tell you that the politics is not very complex, it’s essentially the law of the jungle, but with some codification. If you don’t stand up for your rights, they will be trampled on. If you don’t guard the dignity of your children, they will be blamed for the errors of others. And if you’re not at the table where decisions are being made, you will be on the menu.”

Thanks to a significant boost in donations, the Washington D.C. headquartered NIAC has recently hired a full time staffer in San Francisco and is scheduled to hire a staffer in Southern California later this fall. Given Thursday’s impressive event, NIAC appears poised to potentially build off this success and expand its presence in the Seattle area. The Iranianasked Abdi about the organization’s growth, to which he replied, “This is about Iranian Americans seizing the moment to reach our political potential. We’re in a moment of great challenges but also immense opportunities to rise to that challenge. We have a chance to organize within one of the most dynamic and resourceful communities in the country to protect not just Iranian Americans, but also other immigrant communities and the rights and values that brought our families to this country in the first place.” 

This piece originally appeared in The Iranian. 

NIAC Statement on Trump Amending the Muslim Ban

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: (202) 780-9590

Washington, D.C. – Shayan Modarres, Legal Counsel for the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to President Trump amending his March 6 Executive Order which seeks to impose a Muslim ban:

“President Donald Trump amended his March executive order today, ensuring that if the courts rule in his favor the ban once again will go into immediate effect. However, the American people should not overlook two key points: First, the Muslim ban is already being implemented through ‘extreme vetting.’ The backdoor ‘extreme vetting’ policy already reduced the number of visas issued to Iranians by 52% in April, according to Politico. As long as the Muslim ban is still being carried out through ‘extreme vetting,’ existing court orders will be insufficient.

“Second, the administration never intended the ban to be a temporary measure – but a permanent measure—hence its continued attempts to implement a full ban nearly five months after its initial order. As has been noted numerous times, there was a provision in each Executive Order to make the ban permanent by Presidential decree. For nations including Iran, the administration has clearly stated its intention to make the ban permanent.

“The courts and Congress have a tall task ahead of them in order to block the administration from violating the Constitution. Not only must the orders be struck down, but so must the administration’s backdoor ban.”


Please see NIAC’s Fact Sheet for key information about the Supreme Court’s ruling.

NIAC Statement on Ninth Circuit Ruling Against Muslim Ban

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: 202-780-9590

Washington, DC – Shayan Modarres, Legal Counsel for the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling today to uphold injunctions on President Trump’s Muslim Ban executive order:

“In a step towards defeating the discriminatory Muslim Ban, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against President Donald Trump’s revised executive order. Despite this victory, the effects of the Muslim Ban remain in place: Visas issued to Iranians have fallen by 52% and Iranians are now subjected to months of inter-agency background checks and forced to hand over years of travel history and social media accounts to immigration officials. Instead of an overt Muslim Ban, the administration is carrying out a backdoor ban away from the spotlight. The impact remains the same: The unconstitutional ban is alive and well.

“Although today’s ruling strikes a heavy blow against the Trump administration’s racist and anti-muslim immigration policies, the Ninth Circuit found it did not have the jurisdiction to comment on the Trump administration’s extreme vetting procedures—meaning that the fight is far from over. Lawsuits alone cannot dismantle this multi-layered Muslim ban, and now is the time for Congressional intervention to finally defeat it and any backdoor bans once and for all.”


Celebrating Heritage and Home: An Iranian-American Community’s Gift to Los Angeles

“The Freedom Sculpture a Shared Dream, is a very good example of who [Iranian Americans] are,” said Farhad Mohit, Founding Trustee of the Farhang Foundation. “We are the type of people to give a gift to our city that celebrates our heritage.”

Mohit is referring to the monument that will debut this July 4th, standing “as the ‘Statue of Liberty’ for the West Coast.” Commissioned by the Farhang Foundation, a cultural organization based in Los Angeles, the Freedom Sculpture is a gift from the Iranian community to the United States. Inspired by the Statute of Liberty, the Cyrus Cylinder, and the principles underpinning the United States Constitution; the Freedom Statue is a “pure gesture recognizing [that] the country we live in and the country we came from share ideals.”

The Freedom Statue towers at 16 feet tall and weighs over 20,000 pounds. The silver and gold monument’s debut will be a free public festival symbolizing hope, unity, and will “pull together the tapestry of cultures that make Los Angeles home.”

According to Mohit, the sculpture was “the right idea at the right time.” The intention came to life in 2013 after Iranian Americans came out in droves to support the temporary exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder at the Getty Villa. The community’s support and financial contributions not only covered the hefty cost of sponsoring the Cyrus Cylinder’s journey from the British Museum to Los Angeles, but also left a surplus in contributions.

Encouraged by the Iranian-American community’s turnout and the untapped potential to “show gratitude to for their new home” as a community, Ali Razi, Chairman of the Farhang Foundation, and his team channeled the community’s lingering enthusiasm and pride in the exhibit’s aftermath. The perfect solution presented itself in building “a monument to [the Cyrus Cylinder’s] ideals.” Given the Cyrus Cylinder’s significance as the first recorded declaration of human rights and its profound role in drafting the U.S. Constitution, it seemed fitting that the monument should celebrate human rights and serve as “a gesture of gratitude and solidarity with the ideals of the country we call home.”

“These rights are [not only] part of our heritage,” Mohit said, “they came from us!”

To bring the monument to life, the Farhang Foundation introduced an open contest to submit designs. To the organization’s surprise, world-renowned designer, artist and writer Cecil Balmond submitted his design and was selected to take on the project, stating his passion for Iran and having worked on structures in Iran previously as the motivation to compete. As for the location of the monument, Santa Monica Boulevard, Mohit described the city’s respect for the Iranian community in LA to have been an influential factor in the city’s permanently turning over “the most prestigious and highly trafficked heart of Los Angeles” for the monument.   

While the Freedom Sculpture is the Iranian-American community’s gift to the city of Los Angeles, it stands as a “public monument celebrating individual freedoms, religious diversity and multicultural inclusiveness.” As Los Angeles is home to people of all backgrounds, the placement of the statute in the heart of the city is a tribute to all communities that make Los Angeles the awe inspiring city it is.

“Far too little people fly through Ellis Island anymore,” said Mohit, emphasizing the need for a symbol of diversity on the West Coast. “What better place than Los Angeles, and what better symbol [than the Freedom Sculpture?]” The monument “carries a story that different kinds of people are what make America great.”

Citing Iranians as the most educated and affluent group in America, Mohit added that “we’re responsible for pulling others up … Iranians are great players, but not on a team.” While the election and the Muslim Ban serve as “a great opportunities that allow us to take action,” Mohit was careful to clarify that the Freedom Sculpture was not a reaction to the election or the ban; rather, it was “a proactive gesture of goodwill,” an indication of who we really are as Iranian Americans.   

The Farhang Foundation asks that organizations interested in supporting the Freedom Sculpture reach out to

4th Circuit Issues Biggest Blow Yet to Trump’s Muslim Ban

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: 202 386-6325

Washington, D.C.  –– The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement in response to the decision today by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the lower court nationwide freeze of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban:

“The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) applauds the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court ruling. While fundamental American values of liberty and freedom were under attack by the Executive branch with complicity from the Legislative branch of government, the Judicial branch intervened and upheld the promise of America.

“In the wake of January 27, 2017, the day that will be remembered in history as the day America imposed a Muslim ban, Iranian-Americans became a community in crisis. In almost any airport across the country, you could find absolute chaos, phones ringing off the hook, lawyers huddled around on the ground rushing to type up habeus motions, hundreds of demonstrators, and hundreds of thousands of people in a state of confusion. NIAC, Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), and Pars Equality Center took on the role of first responders for our community.

“When we filed our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Muslim ban in court, we set out with the goal of completely dismantling what we believed was an unconstitutional and unabashed attempt by the President to fulfill a campaign promise of banning Muslims from our country.

“The product of a hurried effort to get a cheap political win for the President, written by shockingly inexperienced and unqualified advisors in the White House, resulted in an executive order that was almost immediately enjoined by the courts as likely unconstitutional.

“The second attempt at a Muslim ban did not fare much better, being enjoined by United States District Courts in Hawaii and Maryland.

“While dozens of challenges to the Muslim ban were filed, the Iranian American community was the community most impacted by the ban – we stood unified and filed our own lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban. Inspired by the stories of Iranian individuals that we spent hours talking to and drafting declarations on behalf of, we meticulously developed a factual record of ongoing harm to our community. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan granted our communities’ request to present live testimony, and we became the first case in the country to provide the court with in-person testimony about how this ban affected our community.

“While Judge Chutkan ultimately exercised judicial restraint in favor of the two nationwide injunctions already in place, she too was “inclined to agree” with the Iranian-American community that this executive order was unconstitutional.

“We are pleased with the outcome, but recognize that there is no time to breathe a sigh of relief as long as this administration decides that it wants to continue down the path of targeting Iranians and Muslims – and as long as Congress passively allows for the erosion of our country’s values and institutions. We are fully prepared to fight relentlessly, for as long as it takes, until we are viewed not as the “other,” but as Americans.”

# # # 


The Fight Over Trump’s Muslim Ban Is A Fight Over America’s Identity

To be clear, this fight in court over Donald Trump’s Muslim ban is not an ordinary disagreement over immigration policy ― racism and discrimination are on trial, and concerned Americans are fighting back against efforts to make these the official policies of the United States. The intent behind the Muslim ban is becoming a central issue in ongoing lawsuits, precisely because a racist intent taints the law itself as racist ― and unconstitutional.

Yesterday, thirteen judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considered whether to uphold a lower court decision from the Maryland U.S. District Court finding that the revised executive order likely violates First Amendment prohibitions on government-sanctioned establishment of religion through condemnation of Islam.

Facing intense questioning, acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall conceded that overt discrimination against a particular religious group would likely be unconstitutional, but insisted that the text of the executive order is facially neutral. He urged the thirteen-member panel of judges to not give Trump’s prior statements about Muslims “the least charitable interpretation.”

Even if the order was found to be neutral on its face, “it has a disparate impact on Muslims” said Judge Pamela A. Harris. She also expressed skepticism about Wall’s position. “Clearly the law has a disparate impact on Muslims,” Judge Harris said. “In what sense is it neutral?”

Judge Barbara Milano Keenan expressed concern over the broad nature of the order, especially in terms of the targeted six Muslim-majority countries. “You’re talking about 82 million people,” she said. “There has to be something about those people’s nationality that renders them suspect.”

Judge Keenan also repeatedly voiced concerns about the link between terrorism and nationals of the six listed countries. “What is it about their nationality,” she asked, that “renders them suspect or renders them dangerous? I don’t see anything in the text that does that.”

At several points throughout the hearing Judges Robert B. King, James A. Wynn Jr. and Henry F. Floyd referred to then candidate Trump’s prior statements on the campaign trail in the months leading up to the general election.

“[Trump has] never repudiated what he said about Muslims,” Judge King said.

Pushing back, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer questioned how far back the judiciary could reach when analyzing Trump’s intent. “Can we look at his college speeches?” he asked. “How about his speeches to businessmen 20 years ago?”

A number of judges questioned Wall about President Trump’s now infamous press release calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which had been posted on Trump’s website since December of 2015, but appeared to have been scrubbed from the site moments before the hearing in Richmond got underway.

“So it doesn’t matter what the president says?” asked Judge Diana Gribbon Motz. “It only matters what the president does in his official capacity?”

Overall, judges seemed to express a great deal of skepticism that President Trump’s revised travel ban was motivated by a legitimate national security concern rather than the president attempting to fulfill his campaign promise to supporters that he would ban Muslims from the United States.

Wall asked the judges to give great deference to the president’s judgment in matters of national security. But Judge Keenan seemed unconvinced that the intent behind the executive order could not be considered by the court. She said Wall’s position could mean that a presidential candidate could, hypothetically, call for a Muslim ban every day for an entire year, sign a facially neutral executive order that accomplished that goal, and argue to the courts that they must ignore whether targeting Muslims was the real intent behind the order. The hypothetical was unintentionally similar to the case before the court.

In a clear indication that the judges recognize the urgency of this case as well as the legal and political significance, the court in the Fourth Circuit decided to forego the initial three-judge panel and skipped straight to the “en banc” or full-court panel of fifteen judges – 2 of whom recused themselves before the hearing.

Normally, cases are argued before a three-judge panel as the litigants’ last opportunity to be heard. Very rarely will the en banc panel re-hear a case that has been previously heard by the three-judge panel.

In fact, the last time the Fourth Circuit skipped the three-judge panel and went directly to the en banc hearing was in 1998 when it considered a challenge to a Virginia abortion law, which sought to require minors to notify their parents before getting an abortion.

President Barack Obama drastically altered the makeup of the conservative-leaning Fourth Circuit, appointing six of the nine Democratic appointees to the bench. Five judges were appointed by Republicans. Chief Judge Roger Gregory was appointed by President Bill Clinton in a recess appointment and was later reappointed by President George W. Bush.

While intent may be rejected as a central factor by some judges, its relevance is indisputable in the real world. If Trump is allowed to put racism into law, America’s own history unfortunately makes it quite clear what that can lead to. What started with a Muslim ban can bring back much darker chapters of America’s past to the present.

Make no mistake ― it is not just Trump’s Muslim ban that is being challenged in court. It’s the very idea that racism can be the foundation for the laws that guide America.

NIAC Deeply Concerned By New “Extreme Vetting” Proposal

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: 202-780-9590

Washington, D.C. – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is profoundly concerned by the Trump administration’s newly released proposal for “extreme vetting” interview questions.

“Donald Trump’s Muslim ban has been blocked by multiple courts so now he is attempting to circumvent the judiciary and impose a Muslim ban through new measures,” said Shayan Modarres, Legal Counsel for NIAC. “This proposal makes America less safe and would do further damage to the values and protections that are fundamental to this country.”

Trump’s “extreme vetting” proposal includes broad new authorities to reject visas for certain travelers. Most shockingly, it would require certain visa applicants to provide all of their social media history over the past five years.

Allowing consular officials the broad authority to assume an individual is a danger based on their location or social media activity could lead to drastic increases in the processing times of visas for individuals of certain countries that have not been proven to be a security threat.

“The broad discretion the administration is proposing offers carte blanche for abuse and – given the Trump’s administration’s track record – we wholly expect it to be abused,” said Modarres. “A consular official could decide not to grant a visa to someone because they posted an unflattering picture of President Trump on their Twitter feed or criticized the president on Facebook.”

The State Department offers no clarity on which visa applicants will be subject to these “extreme vetting” questions, placing unabated discretion in the hands of consular officers to determine which individuals require additional screening.

Without clear guidelines, it is difficult to ascertain the full implications of this proposal and offer little confidence that these measures would not be abused or arbitrarily – and perhaps discriminatorily – enforced. Iranian-Americans fear that this enhanced scrutiny will be used as part of the Trump administration’s long-documented efforts to impose a Muslim ban or otherwise drive down the numbers of individuals from Muslim-majority nations seeking visas.

Moreover, the information collection is unnecessary to the Department of State and previous tests of similar data collection efforts failed to measure their effectiveness. The proposal by the Department fails to establish any criteria for measuring the performance of these new vetting measures to gauge whether the intended objectives are being met.

“One would think that in the wake of a 28% cut to State Department funding by the White House, Secretary Tillerson would avoid diverting limited resources away from proven security measures and towards ideological witch hunts,” said Modarres. “This administration seems intent on targeting Muslim populations with the aim of reducing the number of Muslims in the United States, which is a dangerous and un-American path that Congress, the courts, and the American people must reject.”

If granted, the emergency approval from OMB would be valid for 180 days, while the Trump administration attempts to go through proper channels to achieve a more permanent change in visa procedures.


NIAC Condemns DOJ Decision in Alton Sterling Case

ContactShayan Modarres
Phone: 202-780-9590

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement following the Justice Department’s decision not to charge the police officers responsible for killing Alton Sterling:

“We are deeply disturbed and saddened to learn that the Department of Justice, under the direction of Jeff Sessions, will not be prosecuting the police officers involved in the killing of Alton Sterling outside of a Baton Rouge convenience store last year.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ Injustice against people of color in this country affects us all, and the National Iranian American Council and the Iranian-American community stands by those who stand for justice in the face of rising racism and discrimination in the United States.

“As we continue our fight against the Trump administration’s second attempt at a Muslim ban, we remain resolute and committed to building an America where discrimination and racial injustice are treated as anathema to American values and laws – whether it be police violence that disproportionately affects African Americans or discrimination targeting Americans of Middle Eastern background.  We believe in an America where people are not targeted by the government because they are, Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim or Iranian. We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives in the fight for Black humanity and dignity.” 


Take Action: Make Sure Iranian Americans Are Counted in the Next U.S. Census

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and a coalition of Iranian-American organizations comprised of PAAIA, IAAB, and IABA are urging for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to include an ethnicity category in the Census for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA). Following years of community efforts to ensure Iranian Americans are counted, there is finally a proposal to include MENA as a category on the 2020 census.  The groups submitted a public comment in support of the new proposal and the public can do so as well at the Federal Register website.

In the past, the Census required individuals to identify themselves based on five categories for race, which meant that most Iranian Americans selected “White” or “Other.” Under this new proposal, there would be a combined and broader list of racial, ethnic and national categories under which individuals can identify. Under this broader list of combined categories, there would be a new option – Middle East North Africa (MENA) – which would include a check-box or write-in box for “Iranian.”

NIAC supports the inclusion of this new category to help finally enable an accurate accounting of the size of the Iranian-American community. Complete and accurate numbers regarding the population size of the Iranian-American community have been elusive. An accurate accounting of population size is an important element of a community’s political, social, and economic empowerment. Information collected through the Census is utilized in the drawing of congressional and state legislative district boundaries; the evaluation of claims of private-sector employment discrimination and the monitoring of discrimination in housing, mortgage lending, and credit; and the collection and presentation of population characteristics data, labor force data, education data, and vital and health statistics.

Census data is completely private and protected by longstanding federal law, so fears that this data would be used to violate such privacy or otherwise undermine our community – while understandable considering the current climate – are resolved by these legal protections.

After many years of working so that our community could be counted in the Census, this new proposal to give people of Iranian descent a designated identification option is a victory for Iranian Americans that will better ensure for our full political representation.

>> Submit a comment in support of the OMB proposal today – it’s as quick and easy as posting a comment on Facebook