By Shahriar Afshar
The U.S. government has always maintained that its unilateral trade sanctions on countries like Iran are only targeted at the Iranian government and no one else. Although the U.S. is mildly concerned that not a single ally supports the Iran containment policy, it is content on contining the sanctions, irrespective of its growing collateral damage on the Iranian-American community.
It is no secret that the backing of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) comforts the U.S. Congress in its support of the Iranian sanctions. But why is President Clinton supporting an all out trade ban with Iran for U.S. companies? Perhaps the Clinton Administration believes that in time, enough foreign companies will do business with Iran so as to render the Iranian government completely exhausted and hence unable to pursue any objectionable policies. Or perhaps the U.S. plans to indefinitely preoccupy the Iranians by making them take French, German and Japanese language classes so they can continue signing more foreign investment contracts with everyone but the U.S., since many Iranians are already fluent in English.
However, the futility of the U.S. unilateral trade sanctions on Iran is not simply measured by the tons of money the U.S. is losing each year, nor the thousands of U.S. jobs lost as a result. The U.S. thinks that its trade sanctions are hitting the Iranian government with the surgical precision of a smart bomb. If so, then the collateral damage being felt by the Iranian American community must be only a mirage and not the boomerang effect of a bad law.
There are almost a million Iranian-Americans living in the U.S. More Iranians reside in California than anywhere else outside of Iran. According to a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service report, another 4,788 Iranian were naturalized as U.S. Citizens in 1996. Iranians were the fifth largest population to be naturalized in the U.S. from 1991-1996, totaling over 41,000.
This growing political voice is a market that earns $4 billion in discretionary income annually and spends $460,000 every hour. The U.S. Census Bureau reports show some 50.6 percent of Iranians living in the U.S. have a BA degree or higher, the median annual income is nearly $36,000, and almost 42 percent hold managerial and professional jobs, all above the U.S. national average.
The U.S. unilateral trade sanctions directed toward the government of Iran are having the following impacts on the Iranian-American community in the U.S.:
1. The U.S. customs office limits how many articles (i.e. Persian Rugs) a person may bring back from Iran, perhaps for fear that such goods may be sold for commercial purposes abroad and hence, directly enhance the Iranian governments ability to pursue its objectionable policies. Unless these would be flying carpets, such a leap in logic would surely fail the court's "reasonable person" test.
2. Iranian-Americans have been forced to abandon their personal Iranian-based assets or sever all economic ties with their family business and life's work in Iran. To extrapolate, the American dream can only flourish if it originates in the U.S., irrespective of America's tremendously large bual-national population.
3. By presidential executive order, all U.S. persons are forbidden to engage in any new commerce with Iran regardless of the Iranian-Americans' unique expertise in doing business with Iran above all other countries. Language skills and knowledge of doing business in and with their countries of origin may be the only expertise many immigrants can bring with them as newly-naturalized U.S. citizens. Without the application of this marketable quality, given the rapid expansion of world trade, first generation Iranian-Americans are forced to start from the bottom of the U.S. economic ladder, often doing jobs much below their status in Iran.
The great U.S. public relations machinery of the U.S., in its targeting practice on the Iran, has effectively made it acceptable to alienate Iranian-American's under the doctrine of guilt by association, reminiscent of the Japanese-American experience during World War II. After twenty years of partial separation from the main U.S. population, it is time to settle down with the understanding that (save for native Americans), everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant. It is only a question of when you migrated and how long it will take you to grow roots.
It is a practical impossibility for the U.S. to sanction a nation of 65 million and not inadvertently impact any one of its many diverse migrant populations within. Imagine if the U.S. suddenly decides to sanction Mexico and bars all U.S. persons [Mexican-Americans] from all trade with Mexico. How many Maquiladora businesses would be impacted? How many U.S. jobs will be lost on both sides of the border? How much tax revenue would it cost the state and local border economies? Now imagine how such an action would divide the country and undermine the natural unity that has existed between the people of Mexico and the U.S. for generations? How many families would suffer?
International trade, as it has been for thousands of years, is not just about the exchange of goods or service. It is simply the means by which we build global relationships, engage in cultural exchanges, and above all we expand our horizons. We cannot sanction an entire country, half way across the world, and not expect to feel its impact right here in the United States. The intrinsic severability of persons from their countries of origin is not a matter for the U.S. government to impose by mere operation of law. Our mutual cultural, economic, and social integration has far too advanced to coexist independently.
Since the 1979 divorce of the American and Iranian governments, Iranian-Americans have been orphaned to fend for themselves in political obscurity, add to it a national identity crises. It is time for a change in the U.S. policy toward Iran and, in all fairness, in Iran's public policy toward the U.S. Start with dialogue, trade, and engagement.
About the author
Shahriar Afshar, is President of the Iranian Trade Association, a La Jolla, California non-profit business organization and has published several articles on the issue of the U.S. sanctions on Iran, availalbe at www.IranianTrade.org. He can be reached at Afshar@IranianTrade.org. (Go to top)
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