Experts on the Reimposition of Sanctions on Iran in Violation of the Nuclear Deal

For Immediate Release: November 2, 2018
 Brett Abrams |

WASHINGTON, DC — At midnight on Monday, President Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be finalized. While a portion of the sanctions previously waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came back into force on August 7, the November 5 tranche of Iran sanctions includes many of the most impactful sanctions to be levied on Iran, including those targeting Iran’s energy and financial sectors.

The decision by the United States to violate the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions has already caused economic pain for Iran’s population of 80 million. However, Iran has ruled out negotiations with the Trump administration for the foreseeable future.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, a leading voice for the Iranian-American community and expert on US-Iranian relations, issued the following statement reacting to the implementation of snapback sanctions against Iran:  

“These sanctions are a slap in the face to the Iranian people who have been squeezed between the repression of their government and the pressure of international sanctions for decades. Impoverishing ordinary Iranians will not hurt the regime or achieve any of America’s security interests, but it will set back the Iranian people’s aspirations for years to come.

“The Obama administration left a playbook for how to secure concessions from Iran through patient, multilateral diplomacy. Unfortunately, Trump and his team have ripped the diplomatic playbook to shreds, opting for policies that echo the drumbeat for war that led up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Trump, his war cabinet and regional cheerleaders in Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman do not have the Iranian or American people’s best interests at heart. Instead, they are blowing up an agreement that supports U.S. interests and the aspirations of the Iranian people while planting the seeds for a disastrous war. The U.S. must reverse course before irreparable harm is done to the Iranian people, regional security and America’s international standing.”

In a memo to U.S. lawmakers, the National Iranian American Council warns that the snapback of sanctions on Iran has precipitated a crisis in slow motion, threatening a range of U.S. national interests and tying America closer to the destabilizing campaigns of Saudi Arabia. In the memo, NIAC warns that the blowback from sanctions reimposition will:

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

  • Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions has eviscerated Iran’s benefit for complying with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of Iran halting its compliance with the accord and moving closer to a nuclear weapon.
  • The re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) threatens to disrupt international work to reduce proliferation risks at the Arak heavy water reactor and deeply buried Fordow facility.

Raise the Risk of War

  • Trump’s advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have pushed for war with Iran as an alternative to negotiations, as have Iran’s regional rivals who have increased sway with the Trump administration.
  • A spark for a military confrontation could come from several directions in the absence of diplomacy with Iran – whether over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Isolate the United States

  • The U.S. is in material breach of the UN Security Council-endorsed JCPOA, which all other parties to the accord – including our allies in Britain, France and the European Union (EU) – are seeking to keep alive.
  • JCPOA participants and Iran are seeking to establish independent payment channels, with ramifications that could undercut U.S. dominance of the global financial system and the power of U.S. secondary sanctions far into the future.

Raise Oil Prices

  • President Trump has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump more oil to offset Iranian oil that has been taken off the market, reducing spare capacity that could be key to respond to any emergency.
  • Iranian oil cannot be offset forever, and a crisis risks soaring oil prices and substantial harm for American consumers.

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

  • At a time when Saudi Arabia appears to be an increasingly unsavory partner for the U.S. after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has pigeonholed itself into an approach to the Middle East that relies on Saudi Arabia.
  • Overlooking Saudi Arabia’s crimes to pressure Iran bears eerie resemblance to America’s early backing of Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A more balanced approach to the region is needed.

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

  • Trump’s Iran sanctions are likely to crush the Iranian middle class and private sector, unleashing economic desperation in the country and limiting prospects for internal moderation.
  • Iran’s hardliners have been vindicated by Trump’s decision to violate the JCPOA and snap back sanctions, and will benefit from sanctions that crush forces for moderation while leaving them relatively unscathed.

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

  • Sanctions on Iran under the Obama administration triggered shortages of key life-saving medicines and contributed to the impoverishment of ordinary Iranians by depressing the economy and increasing the cost of basic goods. Similar effects are already being felt from Trump’s snapback.
  • The Trump administration has already targeted private Iranian financial institutions that facilitated humanitarian transactions, raising the risk of further humanitarian crises in the months ahead and more damage to American credibility.

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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.

Letter to Trump Administration on Sanctions Snapback

Sanctions Snapback Letter

Read the text of the letter below:

Secretaries Pompeo and Mnuchin,

The re-imposition of U.S. secondary economic sanctions against Iran as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has raised deep concerns in the Iranian-American community and across the globe. These sanctions follow President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw the U.S. from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal (known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA), despite opposition from the international community, including America’s traditional allies in Europe. While the stated purpose of the sanctions is to elicit “behavior change” from the Iranian government, they are not attached to a diplomatic process aimed at finding compromise. Instead, the administration’s sanctions risk triggering a severe humanitarian crisis inside Iran and edging the U.S. towards another catastrophic Middle Eastern war.

While Secretary Pompeo and other administration officials have said the U.S. is pursuing a “campaign of pressure” in “solidarity with the long-suffering Iranian people,” reinstated U.S. sanctions are in practice amounting to collective punishment of ordinary Iranians, not the Iranian government. Unlike U.S. sanctions against Russia and other countries, which were crafted to focus pressure on key decision-makers, the administration’s Iran sanctions are suffocating the entire Iranian economy, causing the price of life-saving medicine to soar, shortages in previously abundant everyday medicines, and rapid inflation that is making even essential foodstuffs unaffordable for many Iranians.

Despite humanitarian exemptions on food, medicines, and agricultural products, U.S. banking and shipping sanctions are precluding most of this trade for the Iranian people. Fear of running afoul of sanctions and being excluded from the U.S. market or hit with hefty fines has led to most international companies avoiding any dealings with Iran. As a result, even Iranian private charities have been unable to import the drugs they desperately need. The chief executive of one such Iranian charity, which provides care to children with cancer, recently told the Christian Science Monitor: “The reality is that no companies, no banks want to be involved in any operation with Iran’s name, because they don’t know what will happen to them … Can you ask these sanctions designers what we should do?” It is cases such as this that led the International Court of Justice to recently rule that the United States needs to ensure Iran can acquire humanitarian goods and for both sides to avoid taking steps that would exacerbate the situation.

Sanctions have increased human suffering across Iranian society. As Sussan Tahmasebi, a prominent Iranian women’s rights activist, has said: “Sanctions and poor economic conditions tend to impact the most vulnerable groups hardest: women, children, the poor, and those living on the margins of society.” The Iranian middle class is also among the groups that will bear the brunt of reinstated U.S. sanctions. A BBC analysis of the previous round of U.S. sanctions showed that Iran’s middle class was “hit the hardest,” with the average household budget of middle class families falling by 20 percent. This impoverishment of Iran’s strong, educated middle class is a major blow to the country’s organized civil society movement and diminishes prospects for peaceful democratic change.

Indeed, U.S. sanctions are empowering hardline forces who use their re-imposition to discredit their moderate rivals for negotiating with the West and as a pretext to harshly repress opposition voices under the guise of countering U.S.-led aggression. These anti-reform forces are far more threatened by Iran’s reintegration into the global economy than confrontation with the United States and are well positioned to take advantage of the economic desperation that sanctions are unleashing inside the country. Their influence will only grow as financial resources accumulate to only the unaccountable, well-connected few.

By offering little by way of diplomatic off-ramps, the administration’s pressure campaign also dramatically increases the risks of a direct military confrontation with Iran. As a recent letter by former U.S. national security officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned, “the Administration has left Iran the option of either capitulation or war.” In the absence of any serious diplomacy, the tripwires to a U.S.-Iran conflict could come from several directions, including over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions, or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf. As the signatories of the letter emphasize: “The intentional escalation of tensions and promotion of brinksmanship between the U.S. and Iran significantly increases the risk that neither side will be able to prevent a small, unintended clash from spiraling into a large, strategic conflict.”

The damage to American credibility from the President’s about face on Iran is not limited to our standing with the Iranian people. Unlike the multilateral sanctions of the Obama era, which were partly based on UN Security Council resolutions, the Trump White House’s reinstated sanctions have no international legal basis, are contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, violate U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and have been met with global resistance. Rather than winning buy-in from key international partners, the administration has resorted to threatening other countries, including close U.S. allies in Europe, to cease doing business with Iran or lose access to the U.S. financial system. Such use of secondary sanctions is inherently aggressive and serves to diminish the long-term leverage of U.S. economic power.

There is an alternative to an unrelenting pressure campaign that will harm a population of 80 million far more than the government that rules them. The prior administration proved that tough, multilateral diplomacy with Iran can secure American interests while relieving the pressure on the Iranian people. Unfortunately, the current administration appears to have thrown out that successful playbook in favor of a maximum pressure approach that led to the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. For the good of the people of Iran and the region, we implore you to end the administration’s pressure campaign, reenter the JCPOA and pursue your goals with Iran through negotiations instead of threats and maximalist demands.


Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Statement on Horrific Synagogue Attack


Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the horrific attack on worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh:

“We are shocked and horrified by the tragic slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning, which was holding a Shabbat for refugees. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the Jewish community and all those terrorized by this hate crime. In the wake of this tragedy, we must unite and demand that our political leaders cease fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry against all minorities.”

Responding to Omar Navarro’s Slanderous Attack on NIAC and Rep. Maxine Waters

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, responds to Omar Navarro’s slanderous attacks on the National Iranian American Council and Rep. Maxine Waters:

“Omar Navarro’s accusation is an outrageous and slanderous attack, which is all the more deranged at a time when Rep. Maxine Waters and her office have been targeted by political violence. Our event was a fundraiser for NIAC to build our community’s power, not for Rep. Waters. We call on Navarro to immediately delete his tweet, issue a formal apology to both Rep. Waters and our organization, and withdraw from the race. The Republican Party should also make it clear that they find Navarro’s tweet completely unacceptable.”

“This proves that Omar Navarro is not fit to even run for office. If it wasn’t clear when he posted a fake letter on Twitter, prompting queries by the FBI and Capitol Police, it is certainly clear now that he is engaging in outright demagoguery in a desperate bid to gain attention.”

“NIAC is a voice for Iranian Americans who support peace and diplomacy, civil rights, and equitable immigration policies. Attacks like this seek to deprive our community and other immigrant communities a voice in the political process and we will not tolerate them.”


Response to Lindsey Graham’s Racist Remark on Fox & Friends

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to Lindsey Graham’s racist remark on Fox and Friends this morning:

“It is absolutely disgusting for Senator Graham to state on Fox and Friends that it would be ‘terrible’ to discover that he had Iranian ancestry from a DNA test. This is not the first time that Graham has made bigoted remarks about Iranians. In 2015, he said ‘I know Iranians are liars’ based on his experience in his dad’s pool hall.

“If you dread the notion of Iranian ancestry and believe all Iranians are liars, you are hopelessly bigoted and unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate where votes affect tens of millions of Iranians and millions more of Iranian ancestry in the diaspora.

“Graham must apologize for his remarks in 2015 and recant his atrocious attempt at a joke on Fox and Friends this morning. The Iranian-American community will not forget such casual racism, nor will it forget which party has enacted policy on the basis of such racism by banning our family members from Iran.”

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ICJ Orders US to Provide Licenses for Food, Medicine, and Civil Aviation in Iran

Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must provide licenses for transactions related to medicine, food, civil aviation, and other humanitarian grounds:

“Today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reflects the consensus of the international community that access to medicine, food, and civil aviation must not be weaponized against an entire people for the political aims of one administration.

“The decision orders the Trump administration to take all necessary steps to ensure that its sanctions do not inhibit trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including trade in agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and spare parts for civil aviation.  The ICJ’s provisional order acknowledges the ‘irreparable harm’ that the Trump administration’s re-imposition of sanctions—in contravention of its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—could cause to Iran’s people, as the Trump administration prepares to upend Iran’s economy by prohibiting most foreign trade with Iran.   

“By virtue of the Court’s order, the Trump administration is now obligated as a matter of international law to take such actions as necessary to ensure trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including through the issuance of all necessary licenses to guarantee the transfer of funds related to such trade. NIAC urges the Trump administration to adhere to the U.S.’s international law obligations and issue additional license authorizations to ensure that such humanitarian trade is left unaffected by the U.S.’s re-imposition of sanctions.  This should include—at a minimum—the institution of a direct banking channel between the U.S. and Iran so that exporters of humanitarian items are able to make and receive payments related to trade in humanitarian goods with Iran. Currently, all payments related to such trade in humanitarian goods must travel through third-country intermediary financial institutions before being received by a U.S. financial institution.”

“Prior to the Joint Plan of Action—the interim deal negotiated between the U.S., other major world powers, and Iran—U.S. sanctions inhibited humanitarian trade with Iran, as exporters were unable to receive payment related to their trade in humanitarian goods.  This led to significant shortfalls of medicine and medical devices in Iran, as was routinely reported in the U.S. and foreign press. By re-instituting these same sanctions, the Trump administration risks a return to this era with all its attendant harm to the Iranian people. The Court’s decision should leave the Trump administration with no choice but to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft.

“Members of the Trump administration have repeatedly attacked the institution of international courts that were in part established by the U.S. to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the early 20th century. While the administration’s antipathy toward international courts is well known, it would be nothing short of reprehensible for the administration to fail to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft. The international community should press the U.S. to uphold the court’s ruling.”

“Iran should also recognize that the foremost advocate of ensuring that sanctions do not block humanitarian goods for the Iranian people, Siamak Namazi, is now languishing in jail in Iran along with his father Baquer in a profound miscarriage of justice. As Iran presses the U.S. to comply with its international obligations, NIAC reiterates its call on Iranian authorities to release the Namazis, Xiyue Wang, other dual nationals and all prisoners of conscience unjustly held in Iran.”

Update (12:00 PM ET): 

“Rather than take the well-founded international concerns with America’s Iran sanctions seriously, Secretary Pompeo has decided to impetuously withdraw from a treaty aimed at solidifying friendly relations between the American and Iranian peoples. That treaty has proven immensely valuable to the United States historically, including in the judgment against Iran over the 1979 Hostage Crisis.

“As has been demonstrated by past and current experience, when the U.S. chokes off banking channels to Iran it also renders goods that should be exempt from U.S. sanctions – including life-saving medicine – impossible to deliver to the Iranian people. The U.S. could have ameliorated this serious concern of the Iranian people, including by establishing a clear banking channel between the U.S. and Iran for exempted goods. Instead, the Trump administration chose to render its rhetoric on the Iranian people even more hollow by further eroding the remaining infrastructure of U.S. relations with Iran.”


NIAC Condemns John Bolton’s Saber Rattling

The National Iranian American Council condemned National Security Advisor John Bolton’s saber rattling speech outside the UN in which he ominously threatened that ‘there will be hell to pay’ for Iran:

“Bolton has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for over a decade and is now in the driver’s seat of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. His threats are aimed at inflaming tensions, preventing any possibility that his boss might negotiate with Iran, and goading Iran into to doing something that could justify a U.S. attack. The Trump Administration has also callously adopted the language of human rights, even as it threatens war, levels sanctions that will destroy Iranian lives, and undermines efforts by Iranians to organize indigenously to claim their political freedoms from a repressive government.

“Bolton’s past rhetoric raises serious questions about this Administration’s activities when it comes to Iran. Before entering the White House, Bolton publicly urged Trump to back separtist groups and terrorist organizations that could work to destabilize Iran. This past weekend, a terrorist attack inside Iran killed 27 people in the city of Ahvaz, and separatists and terrorist organizations claimed credit. The Trump Administration issued a condemnation of the attack but the fact that the National Security Advisor has endorsed such heinous efforts significantly undermines the credibility or morality of such condemnations.

“No serious person believes that Bolton and this Administration is working towards a diplomatic end with Iran. He earned his credentials in the Bush White House as an Iraq war architect, he made his intentions for war with Iran well known as a private citizen, and he is now putting that plan into action. Whether Bolton’s ultimate plan is for the U.S. to attack Iran or to attempt to destabilize Iran and turn it into the next Syria, he must be reigned in now. When the President’s National Security Advisor steps out of the shadows to publicly threaten war on behalf of the United States, it must be taken as a wake up call as to where we are headed. Congress must take steps now to ensure this Administration does not start a new military adventure with Iran, including by passing legislation to block the likes of Bolton from starting another war and conducting stringent oversight over all elements of the Administration’s Iran strategy.”


Iran Experts Applaud International Community’s Support for JCPOA, Condemn Trump’s Unilateral Bullying of Iran

Statement from Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people, on President Trump’s speech to the United Nations Security Council today:

“NIAC applauds the strong support of the international community for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at the United Nations Security Council meeting this morning, chaired by President Trump. This administration claims it has rallied the international community against Iran, but Trump’s empty rhetoric was exposed as a lie, and global leaders rebuked U.S. efforts against the deal as undermining the cause of nuclear nonproliferation and global peace and security.

“Unfortunately, Trump and his team of warhawks are uninfluenced by global opinion, and have inflicted economic pain in Iran, and allied countries, through unilateral bullying. If this administration is not restrained, Trump threatens to damage America’s credibility, Middle East security, and global nonproliferation efforts, and influence with Iran will take generations to restore.”

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Remembering Ehsan Yarshater

NIAC mourns the passing of Professor Ehsan Yarshater, one of the most eminent scholars of Iranian history, language, and culture of our era. Professor Yarshater devoted his life to the study of Iran and his immense contributions belong not only to the Iranian community, but to the world. While his legacy will live on at Columbia University’s Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies, the gap he leaves in Iranian studies can never be filled.

An academic in the truest sense of the word, Professor Yarshater was unwavering in his dedication to impartiality and objectivity. Among his lasting works will be the Encyclopædia Iranica, an authoritative study of Iranian civilization that relies on the expertise of leading scholars and accurate documentation. It represents a monumental academic feat to which generations of students will remain in Professor Yarshater’s debt.

NIAC will also remember Professor Yashater for his generous spirit as a longtime member and supporter. Those of us who knew him cherish our luck to have been in his presence. We offer our deepest condolences to his friends and loved ones.

Attention: Iranian Students Waiting for F & J Visas

Is your student visa stuck in administrative processing while your semester start date creeps closer and closer? We understand your frustration and this is the time of year when students become anxious that they won’t receive their visa in time to begin classes. Please contact us at to learn what actions we can help you take which include:

  • Receiving a late start approval letter from your department dean which will allow you to begin the semester late if you are not issued your visa on time.
  • Seeking the assistance of the lawmakers that serve the state and district where your university is located.
  • Information on visas for dependents of students.

When you contact us, please include your university, department, and starting date of study.


NIAC’s Reaction to Mike Pompeo’s ‘Iran Action Group’

WASHINGTON, DC — Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is forming an ‘Iran Action Group’ to coordinate and manage U.S. policy toward Iran after the administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo announced on Thursday afternoon that the Iran Action Group would be “directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity.” The group will be headed by Brian Hook, the State Department’s former director of policy planning.

In reaction to the announcement, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“Not only is the Trump administration content to sabotage a successful nonproliferation agreement with Iran and collectively punish 80 million Iranians with harsh sanctions, the State Department’s new “Iran Action Group” is nothing more than an attempt to bypass the State Department’s civil servant experts to implement Pompeo’s dangerous vision to destabilize Iran and close diplomatic off-ramps.

“The Iran Action Group echoes the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the George W. Bush administration launched the ‘Office of Special Plans’ out of the Pentagon to cherry-pick intelligence and make the case for a bloody war. It is particularly alarming that Brian Hook, a person who touted his ties to John Bolton and oversaw a disastrous deterioration of Iran policy, is tasked with escalating tension with Iran and sabotaging diplomatic opportunities.

“The Trump administration should reverse course on the nuclear accord and return to the diplomatic table, end the outrageous ban on Iranians obtaining visas, and mitigate the snapback of sanctions that hurt the Iranian people and many in the United States.”

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High-Skilled Immigrants Act Would Hurt Muslim Immigrants, Foreign Nationals from Smaller Countries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Late last month, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KA) convinced the House Appropriations Committee to include his legislation, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 392), into the 2018 Department of Homeland Security funding bill.

According to the National Iranian American Council, the amendment would eliminate per-country limits for employment-based  permanent residency and produce serious strains for individuals from smaller countries, especially Iranians and other nationals already subject to the Muslim travel ban. This means that certain nationals, including Iranians, will face dramatic increases in wait times to adjust their status, as larger countries would flood the system with additional applicants. Previously, the US State Department described country caps as ‘a barrier against monopolization.’

In reaction to the inclusion of the amendment in the Homeland Security Funding Bill, Jamal Abdi, President of NIAC Action, the political arm of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“The pathway to citizenship must remain an opportunity that is shared equally by individuals of all nations – this is a fundamental pillar of our immigration system. However, this amendment, under the guise of fairness, could result in Iranian immigrants, and other foreign nationals from smaller countries, to be forced to wait years to see immediate family members or begin the process of earning US citizenship.

“The path to permanent residency and citizenship for talented men and women from underrepresented countries, especially smaller nations in the developing world, is fraught with difficulties. The per-country limits ensure that the aspirations of these individuals are not obscured and our naturalization pool remains diverse. Even a cursory examination of the State Department’s immigrant visa statistics reveals that without these limits, nationals from a handful of high-population countries will account for the vast majority of green cards.

“Congress should not rush through any legislation that significantly reduces or eliminates per-country limits for permanent residency without undertaking basic steps to ensure that Iranians and other nationals that have nearly been locked out of the visa system entirely by the Trump administration are not further disadvantaged by changes ostensibly designed to level the playing field

“Our elected lawmakers should seriously consider all ramifications of this legislation before labeling this an easy fix to a complex problem.”

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