Policing Nationality

I am an American citizen, born and raised in the United States. I identify as an American. I also identify as an Iranian-American, but I had never foreseen my dual identity would be grounds for punitive measures as a dual national. I had never foreseen my parents’ heritage could be grounds for exclusion from legal entry into and exit from a country, as legal U.S. citizens. My parents have lived and worked in the United States for more than 25 years.

And yet here I am, anxious and fearful, questioning whether I’ll be able to travel, study abroad, see family in Iran again, or have family visit the States from abroad. H.B. 158, or the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, effectively restricts my freedom of movement and curtails my right to exit, under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I’m certainly not the only one.

The proposed changes within the bill would impose additional visa requirements on dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan and anyone who has visited those four countries since 2011. Currently, under the program, individuals are not required to obtain a visa to travel to 38 countries, mostly throughout Europe, for up to 90 days. The proposed changes, which passed last week in the House 407-19, would curb, or arguably eliminate, travel privileges. Even humanitarian assistance or medical aid would not qualify as a legitimate warrant to travel, let alone return. Moreover, many of the people who would be affected hold dual citizenships with countries they have never set foot in; the law simply applies to their official status as dual nationals. For example, in Iran, if one’s father is an Iranian national, one automatically qualifies for Iranian citizenship – granting him/her the “privilege” of dual citizenship.

It’s appalling that the Obama administration continues to stand by the legislation, even after several House members brought the administration’s attention to discriminatory measures within the bill and their far-reaching implications.  ­­

The issue is that this bill is rooted in reciprocity; if the bill passes, the EU would employ similar restrictions on entry by American dual-nationals, even though these measures could hurt European tourism and business conducted with Iran.

I agree with U.S. congressmen and women that the security of our people should be the primary consideration, particularly in light of recent terrorist attacks, both at home and abroad. That concern, however, does not justify discrimination. The assumption that restricting entry by Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Syrian nationals will correlate to less terrorism does not justify discrimination. The classifications of Iran and Sudan as “state sponsors of terrorism,” do not justify discrimination. No Iranian has been responsible for a single one of these terrorist attacks. In fact, an Iranian-American woman was a victim of the San Bernardino shooting, incontrovertibly a terrorist attack.

As much as national security should be a priority for our administration, I am sick and tired and upset that this is unrelentingly utilized as a warrant for such blatantly discriminatory and hurtful measures. The bill is based on ethnicity and national origin – arbitrary factors that are largely beyond one’s own control.

Must I apologize for my father being born in Iran? This is a country that, at one point, accepted my parents and millions of other immigrants with open arms, only to cast them aside now as a panicked response to terrorism. Must I apologize for my heritage and my identity? This is the country I have known and called home for all 20 years of my life. Must I choose between being American and being Iranian? While the United States has never by any means made it easy for immigrants and children of immigrants to build and rebuild their lives, such collective punishment is inconceivable.

Plus, there is no set end point. For all we know, this program could persist for years.

When Trump made remarks on banning Muslims from entering the country, most people looked upon them as perfunctory. It was just rhetoric. Even when he proposed a definitive plan on restricting Muslim immigration, many did not take him seriously. But this bill is proof that this targeted rhetoric is not empty. It plays a role in the creation of a second class of citizens: people with dual citizenship and identities, people who have never been to these countries despite what a passport may suggest, and people who have traveled to countries that purportedly sponsor terrorism to provide humanitarian assistance. As H.B. 158 gets sent to the Senate with revisions that have yet to be disclosed, the public remains largely incognizant and the media has been silent on the bill and its ramifications.

What has this country – my country – come to?

Where will it go from here?

Who’s next?


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