Stories & Insight One Year into Trump’s Muslim Ban


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: (206) 369-2069

January 27, 2018, marks the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban that remains in place today. The Iranian-American community has been particularly impacted by this ban, with 62% of the non-immigrant visas typically issued to countries on Trump’s list going to Iranians.

The next week is an excellent opportunity to evaluate the continued impact of the ban and the prospects for overturning it when it comes before the Supreme Court this spring or at the ballot box during the Congressional mid-term elections in November. NIAC Action legal, legislative, and community experts are available for comment.

We have included key resources below including stories of those impacted by the ban, an overview of how the ban has been implemented and details on efforts to overturn the ban:

Stories from Iranian Americans on the Continued Impact of the Ban:

“My wife is finally pregnant after 8 years. My mother in law couldn’t wait to see her grandchild, but with Muslim ban 3.0, she has no chance.”


“I sit in my lab at university everyday, thinking why my mom and I are being punished for the crimes we’ve never committed?! In what world anyone has the right to separate a daughter from her mom for 5 years?”


“I can’t hold back my tears when I’m asked by colleagues: “what are you doing for the holidays?” I can’t travel back home because I won’t be able to come back to the U.S. due to the new travel ban. On top of that, my parents whom I have not seen for 3 years, cannot obtain a visa to come visit me. This separation is unnecessary and unfair.”


I lost my father, the only family I had after losing both my mother and only young brother to cancer. My father died of a broken heart, after 16 months of waiting for a visa, he had given up hope that we were ever going to be together again.

I strongly believe my rights were violated not only in the first place when my father went to the U.S. Embassy, but also over and over again during this last 16 months until he died. 

My father died from disappointment and depression. I clearly stated my situation and the hardship we went through in my letters to Congressman, the White House, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy. I also clearly stated my frustration at the neglecting of my father’s case with them, but they did nothing to help us. I strongly believe that they are responsible for all the hardships and grief my father went through, and also his death. I strongly believe my basic right to have my father in my home was subjected to political matter, hatred and discrimination. I don’t doubt that there are many others whose hopes have been dashed by what I perceive to be an uncaring, unfeeling bureaucracy.


“My 73 year old dad is suffering from heart disease, stares at my 3 year old son with a mixture of enthusiasm and sorrow. While he tries to take a look at my son through my cell phone camera, I cry deep inside and curse myself for having to leave them for hope of a better life for my kids living in freedom. My parents may live and die without having their children and grandkids around. This is the price I am paying to be in land of freedom and opportunity.”


“My husband is Iranian, and is now a U.S. citizen. I was born and raised in America, and I’m a current military service member. We are recently married, and we had a destination wedding in Mexico due to the Muslim Ban. We knew there was no way my husband’s entire family would get tourist visas approved to come to our wedding in America, so we decided on a wedding in Mexico. The Mexican embassy in Tehran was great to work with. They were prompt, friendly, and fair. Now that we are back home in the States, it breaks my heart that I do not know when I will see half of my family again. What if we have kids? Since we are recently married, this is something we have been talking about a lot. Do we want to bring children into the world that may never know one set of their grandparents due to our president and administration being racist? Who will help us with childcare and life in general, as many grandparents do? As an Airman, I fight for the rights of everyone in this country. The fact that our president is taking them away everyday because of his misinformed, racist agenda breaks my heart. Will I ever see my sister again? Or brother? How has Congress let him get away with this time and time again?”

– Jennifer

The Legal Implications of the Ban:

The National Iranian American Council has been involved in two lawsuits to defeat all three versions of Trump’s ban. There was little doubt then that Trump’s Order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination,” and there remains little doubt a year later:

  • While Trump’s lawyers have not yet won on the merits, the fact that the ban has been allowed to go into force means that impacted communities cannot rely on the Supreme Court alone to strike down the ban.
  • Dating back for over 40 years, no national from the targeted countries has ever killed anyone in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil;
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has confirmed that nationality is a poor predictor of terror threat;
  • The criteria used to justify the new proclamation were applied arbitrarily, not in an objective manner as the Trump administration has asserted;
  • The ban will impact more Iranians and Iranian Americans than any other group on the restricted countries list. National Iranian American Council’s analysis predicts that Muslim Ban 3.0 will disproportionately impact Iranians with 62% of those potentially impacted being Iranian nationals, according to 2016 State Department data;
  • Even when the Muslim ban has not been in effect, it has applied “Extreme Vetting” measures that have resulted in a dramatic decline in visa issuance to the targeted Muslim-majority countries.

Legislative and Political Efforts to Overturn the Ban:

Trump: Using Ahmadinejad’s Playbook

Iranian and American politics might have more in common than you think.

Sometimes, Washington can be a strange place. A growing chorus of voices warns of dire consequences should Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, but few beltway insiders give him a realistic chance of victory. Many Iranians around the world think differently. For months, we’ve dissected the stylistic similarities between Trump and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Equally important, but less understood, is Trump’s use of Ahmadinejad’s playbook from his 2005 presidential campaign. I was in Iran for that election eleven years ago, and a familiar confluence of factors that catapulted Ahmadinejad to the presidency has thus far provided Trump with a legitimate shot at winning in November.

Iranian voters were a largely disenchanted electorate in 2005. The reform movement had been stymied, and a sizeable portion of Iranian society failed to see their economic lot improve despite the country’s soaring oil revenues. Enter Ahmadinejad: His populist platform criticized Iran’s political elites for using their power to monopolize wealth, and promised to create new opportunities for the average Ali—an Iranian version of “Make America Great Again.” Ahmadinejad’s top challenger, former President Akbar Rafsanjani, said he would continue reforms, support a nuclear deal, and stimulate economic growth—all things that most Iranians view favorably, and similar to the status-quo platform of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

And yet, most Iranians rebuffed Rafsanjani. They largely ignored warnings from establishment politicians that Ahmadinejad had plans to “bring a Taliban-like government into office.” For voters, his anti-establishment message on a rigged system and job creation resonated more. Ahmadinejad framed the election as a choice between an ordinary citizen who understood the common man’s struggles, or Rafsanjani the father of corruption in Iran—an Iranian version of “Crooked Hillary”: Dishonest, untrustworthy, beholden to moneyed interests, and exactly how Trump portrays Clinton. Her campaign is warning American voters that Trump is a “loose cannon” that “can’t be trusted.” It remains to be seen whether scare tactics are more useful today than they were eleven years ago in Iran.

Trump’s policy positions have been short on detail, so it’s almost impossible to nail down what his presidential doctrine might be. His talking points, however, have been consistent: Anti-trade, anti-war, and extreme right wing on everything else—a potentially huge, untapped voter demographic. Like Ahmadinejad in 2005, Trump is deriving the benefits of running on an anti-establishment platform while quietly forging working relationships with individuals who personify the establishment—and in many ways have been responsible for the policies that he rails against. Ahmadinejad was never forced to overcome this basic contradiction, and thus far, it looks like Trump will get a free ride as well.

The aforementioned disenchantment amongst the Iranian electorate in 2005 not only heightened Ahmadinejad’s allure, but also helped drive down voter turnout. When he emerged victorious, Iranians were ultimately forced to accept that he was able to appeal to the majority of voters who went to the polls. Only 63 percent of eligible voters participated, and that number dipped to 60 percent in the second round—a significant drop off from the more than 80 percent who cast their ballots in 1997 when Khatami was elected, and the 72 percent when Rouhani was elected in 2013. Eleven years ago, millions of Iranian voters decided to stay home on election day, and that ended up hurting moderate and reformist candidates.

In the democratic primary, Clinton’s eventual nomination started as forgone conclusion but became hotly contested because a previously unknown senator from Vermont garnered 12 million votes on a different kind of anti-establishment platform—Sanders was like Batman, Trump is like The Joker. By preying on voter disenchantment Ahmadinejad-style, Trump is banking on low voter turnout and convincing Sanders supporters to choose him over Clinton. If her campaign doesn’t win over and mobilize progressive Democrats, they might stay home in November, much like Iranian reformist voters did eleven years ago. The fact that Trump is polarizing at Ahmadinejad-levels doesn’t guarantee high voter turnout, and thus her campaign doesn’t inherently operate from a position of strength.

To hear the Clinton campaign tell it, they understand that high voter turnout increases their odds of success, but we’ve yet to see the kind of game-changing action that would ensure voters flock to the polls. For example, she has denounced the campaign finance system predicated on Wall Street donors and Super PACs, but she’s also using it to bankroll her election. Short of choosing anti-corruption crusaders Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as her vice president, it’s hard to see how Clinton can connect with reform-minded voters in anti-establishment election cycle—a similar predicament faced by Iranian moderates and reformists eleven years ago.

The Iranian electorate was divided in 2005, and voters neither followed their leaders nor were they averse to radical change. Fast-forward eleven years, and the American electorate may be in a similar place. Like Ahmadinejad, Trump has locked in his base of ultra-conservative voters, tapped into a large pool of economically disillusioned voters, and won over anti-establishment votes. It remains to be seen if American voters will learn from the experiences of their Iranian counterparts. Whether or not Clinton’s campaign internalizes the experiences of Iranian reformist and moderate politicians in 2005 could go a long way toward determining the result on election day.

This piece originally appeared in The Cairo Review.

NIAC Seeks Swift Resolution of Sanctions Hurdle for Iranian Doctors in U.S. and Canada

Press Release - For Immediate Release



Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding the decision of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (“ECFMG”) to suspend the processing of requests to verify educational credentials of Iranian physicians seeking to study or work in the United States:

We have received a number of inquiries relating to the ECFMG decision and are deeply concerned by this development and its impact on Iranians and Iranian Americans. NIAC is urgently working to foster a resolution to this pressing issue. Until this situation is resolved, Iranian doctors cannot take exams, seek residency, or practice medicine in the U.S.

NIAC is seeking an explanation from ECFMG as to the specific basis for its decision and conducting outreach to the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to resolve the issue. NIAC urges U.S. authorities to provide quick guidance to ECFMG so as to permit it to continue processing such requests.

NIAC looks forward to an expeditious and satisfactory resolution of this situation. We note, however, that so long as the comprehensive U.S. trade embargo with Iran remains in effect, problems like these will continue to arise for Iranians and Iranian Americans.

ECFMG is a private non-profit organization that certifies and evaluates the qualifications of international medical graduates entering the U.S. to provide medical services. ECFMG performs this role by “verify[ing] the authenticity of credentials related to physicians’ medical education, training, and registration/licensure directly with the institutions that issued the credentials.” For physicians from Iran, this means contacting and interacting with Iranian educational and medical institutions to authenticate physicians’ credentials.

Due to apparent concerns over the permissibility of such interactions under U.S. law, ECFMG has suspended “processing requests to verify credentials issued by institutions in Iran,” until such time as U.S. regulatory authorities provide guidance as to the legality of its interactions with Iranian institutions.

This has created significant problems for Iranian physicians seeking to authenticate their credentials so as to practice medicine in the United States. This problem is compounded by the fact that the Medical Council of Canada (“MCC”) utilizes ECFMG to verify the credentials of Iranian physicians; and, as a result, MCC has also suspended processing requests to verify Iranian physicians’ credentials from Iranian institutions as of last month.


Following Outcry at UMass Amherst, Another U.S. University Revises Policy on Iranian Students

Washington, DC – In response to outreach from the National Iranian American Council, one more university is taking steps to ensure that its enforcement of sanctions and other restrictions against Iran do not unduly discriminate against Iranian students.

Following up on a successful campaign to help press the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass-Amherst) to reverse an exclusionary policy towards students of Iranian descent, NIAC contacted Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) regarding a policy that appeared to block Iranians from certain programs. VCU has responded and demonstrated that it is taking action to correct the issue.

NIAC wrote to VCU President Michael Rao to express concern with language on VCU’s Graduate Admissions webpage stating that the university barred Iranian citizens from admission “in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or in programs that have nuclear content.” NIAC’s letter questioned whether the adoption of this policy was based on a flawed understanding of relevant U.S. law and urged VCU to overturn the unnecessarily discriminatory policy. NIAC urged that the issue be examined and offered its support in addressing the policy.

VCU’s President Rao responded to NIAC’s letter, indicating that the university would work to resolve the issue. President Rao wrote that the school decided to remove policy language suggesting it would deny Iranian citizens entry into certain graduate programs and would now link directly to the State Department’s visa information homepage. Moreover, President Rao suggested that the university is working with outside legal counsel “to develop appropriate guidance for [VCU] so that the opportunities for students from countries under State Department restrictions are maximized to the fullest extent.” President Rao also emphasized that VCU has “many valued and successful Iranian students…, including many in [VCU’s] School of Engineering.”

Under current law, persons from Iran on a student visa are authorized “to carry out in the United States those activities for which such a visa has been granted by the U.S. State Department…” However, a sanctions bill passed in 2012 requires the State Department to deny student visas to an Iranians pursuing studies for a “career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.” The provision has been a major source of confusion for universities, some of whom have unnecessarily read this provision as an obligation imposed upon the schools themselves and have thus restricted their educational offerings to Iranian students. NIAC will continue to provide clarification as to the applicable law to these schools, but issues like this are likely to arise until such time as sanctions on Iran are lifted.

Nonetheless, VCU’s decision is testament to the tremendous work of all groups, including students on campus at UMass-Amherst who successfully fought back against the discriminatory policy there. The outcry over UMass Amherst’s decision to bar Iranian citizens from certain programs had the effect of warning off other universities from adopting similar policies and certainly played a significant role in VCU’s decision to resolve concerns about its own policy. The episode is further evidence of the enormous value of Iranian Americans engaging in civic life and playing a role in shaping the policies that affect them.  NIAC will continue to follow-up with and assist VCU in narrowly tailoring its policies regarding non-U.S. Iranian citizens to meet the demands of relevant U.S. law.

NIAC Urges Bank of America to Halt Iranian Account Closures

Press Release - For Immediate Release

Washington DC — The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) expresses serious concern over the recent string of bank account closures at Bank of America that target Iranians and Iranian-Americans and urges Bank of America to halt all further account closures and to revise its enforcement policy in order to provide necessary notice and recourse to its customers of Iranian descent. NIAC is alarmed that the over-enforcement of US sanctions targeting Iran is leading to discriminatory policies against Iranians and Iranian-Americans.

Over the past month, NIAC has received dozens of communications from Iranians and Iranian-Americans who have had their accounts closed at Bank of America without prior notice.

“Bank of America’s recent actions are disturbing and suggest that it has resorted to profiling and discrimination to comply with US sanctions against Iran,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s Policy Director. “This shows once again the harmful consequences of the US’s overly broad sanctions regime, including for Iranians and Iranian-Americans here in the United States.”

Under the sanctions, US banks are barred from providing banking services to Iran, including to residents of Iran when they are in Iran. Because of the strict penalties associated with violating the sanctions, banks often over-enforce the sanctions by closing or suspending accounts of persons of Iranian descent, without prior notice and on the barest of evidence.

Recent closures, including the ones at Bank of America, have especially targeted Iranian students studying in the United States, many of whom rely exclusively on their bank accounts for funds.

“It is unfortunate that at the same time the US government seeks to promote student exchanges between the US and Iran, its sanctions policies work to undercut the goodwill it is trying to create,” said Abdi. “Subjecting Iranian students to the discriminatory practices of US banks, who are themselves trying to comply with US law, is a poor introduction to the United States.”

Bank of America’s action follows a number of similar cases, including that of TCF Bank which is now under investigation for potential civil rights violations in Minnesota. Last month, Bank of Hawaii quickly worked to restore closed Iranian students’ bank accounts it had closed and put in place a solid compliance program to ensure no repeat instances.


The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.