IABA, NIAC and IAPAC Hold Unity Campaign

Washington, DC – The Iranian-American Bar Association (IABA) launched its Unity Campaign on November 21 with a presentation called "Impact of Pending Immigration Laws and Opportunities for Civic Engagement," a first in an expected series of events aimed at bringing together Iranian-Americans as a formidable, influential force on civic life, as well as facilitating educational panel discussions between Iranian-Americans and non-Iranian Americans.

IABA had invited two other prominent Iranian-American groups to speak at the event as a show of unity, the President of the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) Mr. Hassan Nemazee and the President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Trita Parsi.

One of the key topics of the evening was the broad language of Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. The Act, signed into law by President Bush earlier this year, was created in direct response to the tragic events of September 11th in order to secure US borders, improve visa entry systems, and thwart future terrorist attacks.

However, Sec. 306 assumes that nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas from countries listed as state-sponsors of international terrorism all pose as a security threat to the U.S. unless determined otherwise by the Secretary of State. The Department currently lists Iran as one of the state-sponsored terrorist nations.

Another debated topic was Section 811 of the Gekas Bill, legislation that would ban all visas to Iranians.

"The political influence of Iranian-Americans is virtually non-existent," Babak Hoghooghi, IABA President, said.

One of the major supporters of Sec. 306 was Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) from California, a state populated with close to a million "highly successful and politically inactive" Iranian-Americans, Hoghooghi said.

IABA also drafted a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and James Ziglar, Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, expressing the concern of Iranian-Americans over Sec. 306, calling it "unfair" and "discriminatory." Hoghooghi also wrote in the letter that "matters such as family visitation and emergency medical care may become surpassingly difficult" with the new law.

Nemazee paralleled the strength in numbers of Cuban-Americans in Florida with the population of Iranians in California, the main difference standing that Cuban-Americans have successfully integrated their community within the political arena as well as with issues concerning the American community at large.

He advised that voting in elections for candidates who will listen and educate is important, as "some may argue it is one's duty to vote."  IAPAC focuses on contributing money to the campaigns of pro-Iranian-American candidates.

Parsi pointed out that the Iranian-American community's first challenge is to understand how the system works. 

"Unity may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. We have been united on many issues without managing to translate that unity into influence. The problem is that after two decades of not having participated in American politics, we no longer know how to participate, Parsi explained. He continued by stating that NIAC was created to fill in the knowledge gap that Iranian-Americans face when it comes to civic participation and serve as "the eyes and ears on Capitol Hill."

NIAC and IABA organized a two-hour telephone campaign a few weeks ago encouraging people to call their delegation and express concern over the SAFER Act. Parsi said that NIAC's legislative Action Center received 8,000 hits and more than 4,500 letters were sent to representatives around the country.

"We're starting to establish in our community a habit of contacting representatives," Parsi said.

NIAC has held meetings with the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration in the House of Representatives and explained the viewpoints of the Iranian-American community on Section 811 of the Gekas Bill.

"We have established good relationships with key staffers and key members in key committees," Parsi explained.

Some audience members expressed concern over how long it actually takes before the community is able to appreciate solid results.

"We want overnight solutions but there are none," Hoghooghi explained.

Eric Sklar, a former staff member of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) offered his perspective on the road ahead for Iranian-Americans, pointing out that it takes years to rise as an influential community.

Sklar also said that strong financial resources, like PACs, will give enormous access in building a powerful and significant presence in civic life. "Pick Congress-people and Senators who are going to be your champions," Sklar said.

Hoghooghi said that the IABA Unity Campaign seeks to empower Iranian-Americans with patience, perseverance, vision, and conviction.

"Begin by convincing yourself that this is a worthy cause," Hoghooghi
said. "And act on that conviction."

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