Open Letter To Sen. David Perdue Re: Visa Lottery

Dear Senator David Perdue,

I am writing on behalf of NIAC Action, the nation’s largest grassroots Iranian-American organization, to express our profound disappointment and concern with your recent remarks on Fox News and Twitter concerning Iranians and the Diversity Visa Program.

Your statements are not only misleading but discriminatory. Demonizing an entire people is dangerous and does nothing to advance U.S. security but instead undermines the very principles that make our country great. We call on you to clarify your remarks and apologize for implying that ordinary Iranians are somehow a threat to U.S. security.

The Iranian people are not their government. Ordinary Iranians and their family and friends in the U.S. should not be punished or targeted in remarks by a sitting U.S. Senator because of the actions of the Iranian government. At a time when the President has already attempted to ban Iranians from visiting the United States, your comments are particularly damaging and insulting.  This type of rhetoric and policy hurts American families. Iranian Americans – including in your home state of Georgia – have already been cut off from their friends and family in Iran by these policies. In many cases, Iranian Americans are unable to travel back to Iran themselves because of concerns about how the Iranian government may treat them. Now, we may not be able to be visited by our family members in Iran because our own government has taken draconian steps to ban them because of their national origin or religion. Add to this frustrating situation your outrageous suggestion that, because the Iranian government is designated by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism, all Iranians should be punished.

Not a single person has died in the U.S. as a result of an Iranian terror attack. Banning and scapegoating an entire people is not only wrong–it does not keep us safer and likely makes us less safe. There is no evidence that national origin is a reliable threat indicator. The threat of radicalization is, in fact, exacerbated by policies that demonize and stigmatize people based on religion or national origin. Instead of fanning the flames of division and seeking out discriminatory proposals that have no merit, we would hope that you and others who are charged with crafting our nation’s security policies take a serious, fact based approach towards finding solutions.

Moreover, the Diversity Visa Program that you and the President are now attacking represents a program that advances the fundamental ideals of our nation. Since its inception in 1990, the Diversity Visa Program has provided opportunities to immigrants from countries who do not regularly migrate to the U.S. Originally, it was Irish immigrants who most benefited from the program. In 2015, countries as diverse as Liberia, Russia, Nepal, Iran, and Egypt all produced over 4,000 recipients of the visa. No country may account for more than 7% of available diversity visas in a single year but disparities do exist among countries both due to application rates and approvals. This program enhances the rich mosaic of cultures and perspectives in the U.S.

It is a widely held misconception about the Diversity Visa Program, informally known as the green card lottery, that if one wins the lottery they are guaranteed entry to the U.S. This is false and it is troubling that lawmakers such as yourself appear to lack a basic understanding of the process. Once an applicant to the Diversity Visa Program is selected they still must attend an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In the case of Iranians they must travel outside of the country, usually to the U.A.E. or Turkey, and attend an in-person interview. Winners of the visa lottery are routinely denied visas and it is not an open door policy as you would have American citizens believe.

Our concern with your attacks on the Diversity Visa Program is not out of self-interest but out of the interest of Americans. It is true that many Iranians have benefited from the existence of the program, and it is also true that Iranians would also prove incredibly competitive in a merit-based system. The “merit” Iranians already bring to this nation is widely displayed across academic faculties and executive boardrooms. Just this week, Eric Schmidt – the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc. – criticized Trump’s banning of Iranians and indicated that he wants Iranians working for his company. “Iran produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world,” Schmidt said. “I want them here…to be clear: I want them working at Alphabet and Google.”

However, we do not think the value of diversity can be reduced to a simple list of socioeconomic indicators. In fact, we believe that diversity for the sake of itself is a worthy pursuit and is actually one of the founding ideals of this nation.

We can have a legitimate debate on the Diversity Visa Program, but to suggest it is an insidious program and use Iranians as evidence of that alleged insidiousness is inaccurate and encourages bigotry against our community. We demand an apology to our community, including the Iranian Americans you represent in Georgia, for your remarks.


Jamal Abdi, Executive Director | NIAC Action

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