“Lawmakers are sending a clear message that we should not be discriminating against people because of where they were born or who their parents are,” said NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi. “The U.S. has legitimate concerns about some of the activities of Iran’s government, but punishing people who travel to Iran or who are of Iranian heritage does nothing to enhance U.S. security and is an insult to American values.”
In the December omnibus government spending bill passed by Congress, provisions were included from a bill passed by the House of Representatives (H.R. 158) to bar dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan as well as foreigners who have traveled to those countries since March 2011 from eligibility in the visa waiver program.
Most people of Iranian descent, including Iranian Americans, are considered Iranian dual nationals because Iranian citizenship is passed down automatically from the father. Because the visa waiver program operates on reciprocity, the new restrictions invite similar restrictions that could render Iranian Americans ineligible for the visa waiver program, effectively creating a second tier of American citizens traveling abroad. It is estimated that there are 900,000 Iranian passports held by Americans and polling indicates that over 60% of Iranian Americans travel to Iran.
“This law would not have even applied to the San Bernardino shooters or the 9/11 hijackers, but it is already punishing ordinary people in Europe and threatens to punish Iranian Americans,” said Abdi. “Waiving the restrictions on dual nationals and people who have traveled to Iran to visit family, for tourism, or for academic purposes will protect American values and ensure we are not inviting similar restrictions that turn Iranian Americans into second class citizens.”
Thousands of Europeans who are Iranian dual nationals or who have visited Iran have already been expelled from the visa waiver program, including prominent journalists like BBC’s Rana Rahimpour and New York Times Tehran Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink.
The signatories on the letter along with Congressman Huffman are Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Don Beyer (VA-08), Mike Honda (CA-17), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Danny Davis (IL-07), Mark Takano (CA-41), Keith Ellison (MN-05), James McGovern (MA-02), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Charles Rangel (NY-13), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Jim McDermott (WA-07), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Dan Kildee (MI-05), and David Price (NC-04)