In just a matter of days, a grass root protest petition against the passage of the U.S. Senate H.R. 3525: “Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002”, has attracted thousands of signatories and growing by the minute. Specifically, the one million Americans of Iranian descent have expressed their displeasure to that aspect of the Bill that deprives them the right to have their parents and close relatives visiting them periodically here from their ancestor's land.
The petition, addressed to President George W. Bush, the cabinet members and nembers of the House and the Senate, states: “Whereas we continue to unequivocally remain behind you [Mr. President] in battling out any despicable terrorist acts against the United States of America and the Principles for which this great Nation stands, be it graciously acknowledged, nonetheless, that as patriotically proud, tax paying and contributing Americans of Iranian descent, we submit to you our displeasure with grave concern regarding the passage of the Senate H.R. 3525: Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.”
It is believed that if this bill becomes law by presidential endorsement, it would prohibit the issuance of tourist, business, student and other types of non-immigrant visas to residents of a few countries including Iran, the government of which are on the terrorist sponsoring states list of the US State Department. This means that immediate family members of over one million Iranian Americans can NOT, as in the past, travel to visit their American family members in the U.S.
Many in the Persian American community believe this bill not only applies a blanket mistreatment of millions of Iranians with a suspicion, i.e., “guilty unless proven innocent” simply because of their country of birth or the government that currently rules it, but it more significantly places an immense hardship on the shoulders of the American families who would very much like to have their parents and close relatives here for short visits.
Ironically, many of such Americans can not freely travel to their native motherland either due to the fear of political charges there. Everyone in this community, nonetheless, agrees there should be a stringent screening of visa applications that does apply to all travelers entering the US regardless of their country of origin. Some even go further by saying it is paradoxical that none of the despicable terrorist activities in the US was committed by a culprit carrying an Iranian passport, but rather by those other nationals whose governments do remain among so-called US “allies”.
Even though there have been sporadic number of Iranians who have immigrated to the US since the late 19th century, it is only since the late 70's when due to socio-political changes in Iran when massive number of them entered the US as immigrants–many returning after having completed their advanced education here earlier. Estimated at nearly one million strong, it is recognized as one of the most educated, affluent, law abiding and well assimilated recent immigrant communities (substantially well above national average according to the US Census, an MIT and other independent Reports).
Iran, formerly called Persia (circa. 1930's), is a culturally rich and ancient country with tremendous contributions in the arts, sciences and technology, literature, etc. to the world civilization. Upon closer examination of every sector of our society, one would easily recognize the active participation of modern Iranian Americans as university professors and researchers, artists, business entrepreneurs, government staff, and health professional including 30,000 physicians. Some estimate the annual contributions of this community to the US economy to stand at no less than $100 billion.
It is, however, very fascinating to observe the rapid development of voter registration, pluralization and articulation of the community at-large aspirations, coalition building not only among the Iranian Americans of diverse socio-political and religious backgrounds, but also with other immigrant and mainstream political institutions and full participation in the American political process, to become one major positive outcome of the whole debate.
Moreover, unless this legislation is modified to remove those aspect of it that negatively impacts the lives of Iranian-American, it is anticipated that the number of permanent residence immigration applications to petition for parents and siblings will increase dramatically, thereby creating a gridlock in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's processing system, that has not thus far been necessary since such relatives could, with ample security scrutiny, travel to the US for short visiting purposes.
David N. Rahni is President Emeritus-in-Residence of the Persian Watch Center . He is a professor of chemistry at Pace University in New York. He also serves as an adjunct professor in environmental law and dermatology.