January 20, 2016

Obama Administration Should Waive Visa Discrimination

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: [email protected]

Washington, DC – NIAC Action is deeply concerned that a UK citizen, BBC reporter Rana Rahimpour, has been rejected from traveling to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program because she holds dual-Iranian citizenship. Under a new law, certain dual citizens in Europe and other Visa Waiver Program countries are barred from traveling to the U.S. without a visa.

“The United States does not discriminate against people because of their family heritage or national origin, yet that is exactly what this new law does,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action Executive Director. “The Obama Administration has the authority to waive the discriminatory provisions and we hope they do the right thing before the restrictions are formally implemented.”
While the State Department has said the controversial Visa Waiver Program changes have not yet been implemented, the news about Rahimpour has created significant uncertainty for the Iranian diaspora and other dual nationals in Europe. 
NIAC Action is also perturbed by comments by the State Department spokesperson suggesting the discriminatory visa measures are acceptable because they only apply to “a subset of people” and forcing this group of people to apply for a visa is “not that arduous.” 
“Discrimination is, by definition, the treatment of a subset of people by a different standard and that does not excuse it,” said Abdi. “Forcing people to go through a separate visa process because of their family heritage is just as unacceptable as targeting them for their race or religion and contradicts everything America stands for.”
Because citizenship for Iran, Iraq and Sudan is automatically passed down through fathers, individuals will be restricted from the Visa Waiver Program under the new law based on their family heritage. Moreover, because the program is reciprocal, the new law could trigger similar restrictions on dual nationals in the United States.
“This wrongheaded approach threatens the rights of Americans and will not make Americans safer,” said Abdi. “These new restrictions would not have applied to either of the San Bernardino shooters or any of the September 11th hijackers.”
NIAC Action, opposed the passage of the discriminatory visa waiver provisions and is supportive of new bipartisan legislation to narrowly repeal restrictions against dual nationals – the Equal Protection in Travel Act.  NIAC Action has urged the White House to utilize its authority to waive the provisions targeting dual nationals as well as restricting persons who have recently traveled to Iran.
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