November 20, 2012

New Study Outlines Impact of Broad Sanctions on Iranian Americans

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

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is pleased to announce today’s release of a new study, “Unintended Victims: The Impact of the Iran Sanctions on Iranian Americans,” authored by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) as part of a collaborative effort with NIAC, the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA).

NIAC, which has consistently opposed broad sanctions that punish ordinary people and supported targeted sanctions against human rights violators, commends ALC for producing this study. NIAC welcomes the report and the documentation of the consequences that broad U.S. sanctions are having on Iranian Americans as an important educational tool for the public and for policymakers. 

“This report sheds needed light on how sanctions are not just punishing our friends and family members inside of Iran instead of the government, but also coming back to punish ordinary Iranian Americans in the U.S.,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. 

The ALC study documents some of the instances of Iranian Americans being blocked from completely legal transactions through unclear or overzealous enforcement. The case of Iranian Americans being denied purchases at Apple retail stores earlier this year was just the tip of the iceberg.

The report documents the case on one man, given the pseudonym Karim in the study, who needed to have knee surgery while he was in Iran. Upon returning to the U.S., the pain medication he purchased in Iran was confiscated and he was arrested. While Karim was eventually released and the charges were dropped, he incurred massive legal fees. 

Other cases documented in the study include a 20-year old student in California whose parents both tragically died and who was unable to get financial support from her remaining family in Iran for weeks. There are also cases that include difficulties in attempting to send humanitarian relief to Iran, problems with Iranian Americans having their inheritances frozen, and issues for Iranian Americans attempting to sell property in Iran.

The report explains that the sanctions are often overzealously enforced because they are extremely broad and complicated. The current Iran sanctions regime has been built by 30 years of executive orders and legislation. The resulting byzantine system has unclear barriers and serious penalties for violations. As a result, enforcement agencies and private entities like financial institutions are often unsure about is and is not allowed. So, they play it safe by over-enforcing the sanctions. 

“By clarifying how sanctions are being improperly enforced, hopefully we can prevent Iranian Americans from being discriminated against and further burdened,” said Abdi. “But to truly fix this problem, there must be a change in policy.”

Sanctions are being imposed on Iran, according to policymakers, to address the nuclear issue. However, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said today that sanctions are having no visible impact on Iran’s nuclear program.  At the same time, there are increasing reports of medicine shortages inside of Iran.  The UN General Secretary, as well as independent civil society actors, have warned of increasing humanitarian and human rights consequences resulting from the sanctions.

To begin to resolve the impact of sanctions on Iranian Americans, the ALC report recommends that the U.S. government engage the Iranian-American community to understand the collateral damage its policy the sanctions causing; and to clarify the boundaries of sanctions by specifically explaining which transactions are legal to Iranian Americans, U.S. financial institutions and to border protection agents.

The report, “Unintended Victims: The Impact of the Iran Sanctions on Iranian Americans” is available here.  ALC’s “Know Your Rights” guide for Iranian Americans is available here.





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