June 17, 2010

Bill Targeting Iranians Seeking Visas Stalls in Congress



NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi (L) & Assistant Director Patrick Disney (R) delivering letters to Rep. Barrett’s office.

The Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act, a controversial piece of legislation targeting Iranians seeking American visas, appears to have stalled in Congress in the face of vocal opposition from the Iranian-American community and harsh media criticism.

Things did not go well from the start for the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-SC). In the week after NIAC broke the story that Barrett was planning to reintroduce the controversial bill, over 5,000 people sent letters to Barrett‘s office urging him to reconsider the bill.

Hours after NIAC delivered those letters, his spokesperson announced that the most controversial provision – which would have forced the deportation of nonimmigrant visa holders living in the US – would not be included in the revised legislation.

However, even without the most controversial provision, the bill has not gained any further support. Unlike when the bill was first introduced in 2003, when the bill was supported by four other Congressmen, this year no other members of Congress have endorsed the STEP Act by becoming cosponsors of the legislation.

The tepid response to the revised STEP Act follows the intense media backlash that ensued after NIAC publicized the issue. In one instance, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann covered the news by ridiculing Rep. Barrett as the “worst person of the world” on national television. Reiterating a point first noted by NIAC, Olbermann excoriated Barrett for claiming he was reintroducing his bill in response to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit, when in fact neither of the individuals would have been affected by the sweeping provisions in the STEP Act.

Barrett is running for Governor this year and is not seeking re-election for Congress, making It unlikely that the STEP Act will be re-introduced next year.

However, that does not mean the idea behind the STEP Act is dead. On his website, Kentucky Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul declares he would “propose a moratorium on Visas (sic) from about ten rogue nations” and that he would also deny visas for anybody who has traveled to any of these “rogue nations.”

Paul’s campaign has thus far refused to respond to requests from NIAC to clarify if his moratorium would include Iranians and persons who have visited Iran.



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