A Question for my America

Article Published in Chicago Daily Law Bulletin:

Last week, President Donald Trump unveiled the second version of his widely criticized travel ban, namely the “Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (aka Muslim Ban 2.0).

Iraq was dropped from the list of named countries after intense lobbying by the Iraqi government and key voices within the Trump administration. However, nationals of six countries — namely Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia — will still be unable to obtain visas for 90 days.

Importantly, Iranian visa-seekers will likely be banned from the United States indefinitely due to the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries and Iran’s designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. State Department.

Those with valid U.S. visas as of Jan. 27 are exempted. Further, the travel ban does not affect green card holders either.

No clarity has been issued, however, relative to non-U.S. Iranian dual nationals, for instance a German-Iranian dual national.

The executive order argues: “Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and continues to support various terrorist groups, including Hezballah, Hamas and terrorist groups in Iraq. Iran has also been linked to support for al-Qa’ida and has permitted al-Qa’ida to transport funds and fighters through Iran to Syria and South Asia. Iran does not cooperate with the United States in counterterrorism efforts.”

This is a telling provision embedded in the executive order, because it appears to illuminate the real reason behind the travel ban. I shall elaborate.

From 1975 to 2015 (a 40-year span), six Iranian nationals were arrested and convicted on terrorism-related charges in the United States.

On information and belief, not one of these individuals fired a gun, blew himself up, hijacked a plane or otherwise killed an American, either abroad or on U.S. soil. Rather, they were charged with selling arms to the Islamic Republic; a criminal offense, nonetheless.

Iranians themselves have been victims of terrorist attacks in the United States, for example, my fellow Assyrian Christian Benneta Betbadal in the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre.

They have also been among the first responders: my fellow countryman Dr. Michael Neeki, a trauma physician whose advanced life-saving techniques were extremely helpful during the minutes following the massacre in San Bernardino.

Furthermore, more than one in four Iranian-Americans holds a master’s or doctoral degree, the highest rate among 67 ethnic groups, according to an independent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In fact, there are more than 50 Iranian-Americans in senior leadership positions at companies with more than $200 million in asset value. Moreover, they hold vastly diverse religious views, including the tenets of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and, yes, even atheism.

Given all that Iranian-Americans are and everything that they have contributed to this country, while proudly proclaiming themselves “American” before all else, could a reasonable person blame them for lamenting Trump’s travel ban?

As of this Thursday, the date on which the executive order will go into effect, Iranian-Americans will not be able to petition their families, fiances or fiancees to join them in the United States. Premier American companies (e.g. Google, Apple, Tesla, etc.) will not be able to attract the best and the brightest Iranians to cement this country’s global dominance for years to come.

While the executive order does appear to contemplate some exceptions, such as “for significant business or professional obligations” and for visiting close family members, the question still remains: Why ban Iranians in the first place?

The answer appears to have very little to do with Iranian nationals and almost entirely with the Islamic Republic’s regime, the very regime that has had a chokehold on its citizens since 1979.

Iranians, having endured that country’s oppressive and archaic laws (or lack thereof), as evidenced by its shameful human rights record, are now being taken hostage by my country.

The United States, the very country Iranian-Americans have traversed thousands of miles to reach and call home, the Land of the Free, is at the cusp of taking them and their loved ones hostage to force Iran’s hand to “cooperate with the United States in [its] counterterrorism efforts” or some other, yet unknown political gain.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. would say, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And so I ask you, America: Will you stand with me?

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