Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

HR 158: A Betrayal of Iranian Americans

img_photo_asmoudeh_190wThe following op ed, written by Kamran Azmoudeh, a local dentist, was printed in my daily paper, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, on January 8, 2016. It’s worth reading…and re-posting.

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The war on terror and ISIS in particular has hit home in Santa Rosa. Its effects have shaken me and over a million Iranian Americans (and certainly other Muslim Americans) to the core. Not unlike Kristallnacht or the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, those perceived as Muslim immigrants are becoming victims in this ill-fought war. The events that lead to Kristallnacht started with the same type of hateful ideology, except sadly this is happening today in the United States.

I have lived in this country for 38 years and managed to gain an education which has afforded me a good life. I have been married 24 years to my loving wife who happens to be a Catholic American of European heritage and have two beautiful American children and two American grandchildren. I have been a productive American citizen for decades and proudly hold an American passport, which enables me to travel freely with all the privileges afforded to Americans.

Unfortunately, due to the tragic terrorist attack in San Bernardino and hateful rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump, the House of Representatives passed HR 158, which was also approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama in mid-December as part of the $1.1 trillion funding bill. This law in essence robs me of my rights as a citizen based on my ethnicity.

I am heartbroken.

If this law stands, ISIS will have won a historic victory. Alienation of people like me in no way will improve our national security or make our country a better place for all its citizens. The question is, do we want an America where citizens are segregated based on their religion or national origins? Or do we commit to respecting the U.S. Constitution and the Bill Of Rights?

HR 158 alters the Visa Waiver Program, which enables citizens to travel within 38 countries including the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea without a visa. The bill requires that any dual citizen from Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or anyone who has traveled to these counties in the past five years, to be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program. So if my French (citizen) brother or relatives from a number of EU countries were to come to the United States, as many do routinely, they are no longer treated as European nationals and need to apply for a visa.

As these treaties are reciprocal, there will be restrictions imposed on Americans like me. In other words, I now need to apply for a visa to travel, where my wife and children will be traveling free of restrictions. I will be ushered through a different gate as a second-class citizen of the United Sates. I submit to you that if all Americans were subjected to this restriction on free travel, there would be an uproar.

I have lived my life as an exemplary citizen and a fully assimilated member of the society. I never in the past called myself an Iranian-American; just an American. I resent that I have been reminded that I am an Iranian-American. I feel as though my government is dissimilating me now. That I am on the fringe and dispensable.

What is more tragic to me on a personal level is the feeling of betrayal by my own government, demoting me to second-class status based on my country of origin and assumed religious persuasion. The assumption that I, or millions like me, are potential sleeper ISIS or al-Qaida members waiting for the right moment to strike is ludicrous. The fact that I have lived 38 of my 59 years in this country seems meaningless.

The America I came to in 1977 was a confident and courageous country, a beacon of hope, a welcoming and generous place, where the rich tradition of immigration and assimilation had given rise to a unique place in the world. I fear the America we are embarking on is teetering on the edge of xenophobic-inspired fascism. Although there has never been an Iranian implicated in any acts of terror in this country and the majority of 9/11 — as well as the San Bernardino — terrorists were not from any of the counties this bill singles out. Fearmongers have unjustly targeted people like me as scapegoats and succeeded.

It is noteworthy to ask why Saudi Arabia, the other Arabian Peninsula countries and Pakistan, which have been the main exporters of terrorists, are not mentioned in this bill. It’s worth a look back in history to places like Germany where hateful rhetoric little by little led to Kristallnacht; or to the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942; Bosnia, where religious divisions fanned by misled nationalists led to a bloody civil war. Do we want a country where its citizens are segregated based on their national origins and religion? Or do we aspire to respect our Constitution and the Bill of Rights and remain a beacon of hope and freedom? Although this bill, may not stand the test of a Constitutional review, the damage is done. This short-sighted action by our misguided politicians will do nothing to secure our borders or to make our country any safer. Instead it will help radicalize disenfranchised citizens and aid ISIS.

This is precisely what the thugs of ISIS want — an America scared of its own people. A people scared of each other.

Tell me, Mr. President, what do I need to do to prove that I am an American?

His is an excellent question. It set me researching HR 158. I found support for his complaint in an article from The Hill, which bills itself as “a top US political website, read by the White House and more lawmakers than any other site — vital for policy, politics and election campaigns.”

What the-hillis remarkable to many Iranian Americans is that that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any individuals who travel to Iran have become radicalized or committed acts of terror. On the contrary, most take with them a deep appreciation of American values and beliefs.  Moreover, the Islamic State is a sworn enemy of Iranians, making the bill doubly egregious in discriminating against the one American ethnic minority group that is even more removed from the terrorists than others. To place a group of American dual citizens into a de facto suspicious category while leaving out other dual citizens of the many countries that ISIS operates in is ineffective policy at best and highly discriminatory at worst.

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The US hosts the largest expatriate community of Iranians in the world. Dr. Azmoudeh, one of that community, speaks with the voice of a real American.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Cotler says:

    I wrote to Dr. Azmoudeh…
       I wish to offer my sincere thanks and support for your heartfelt, thoughtful analysis of the destructive anti-immigrant attitude created by fear-mongering, wrongheaded politicians. My grandparents immigrated to America to escape persecution. They built new, fruitful lives. Their descendants have added much to this country, as I suspect yours have and will. Profiled as possibly dangerous after 38 years? You are scarily apt in your comparison of current panicky overreactions by our short-sighted politicians to the horrors of Kristallnacht, the xenophobic Japanese-American internment, and Bosnia’s “ethnic cleansing” (what a hateful phrase!). Our country is in danger of losing its soul to xenophobia and racism (for that what is at the heart of all these so-called security measures). 
     
    And he replied…
       Thank you for your gracious and comforting words. I want you to know that I believe in America and love my country. Yet I deemed it necessary as an American to speak up and state my opposition. The space I had available did not allow me to explain why some are compelled to be dual nationals. Because I still have loved ones in Iran, I have no choice.

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