“Mr. speaker, this week I received a memo from the National Iranian American Council urging Members to oppose my bill. This is the same council that opposes President Trump’s travel ban, which was recently upheld by a supreme court decision of 7-2, and the same organization that took concern with new sanctions imposed on Iran’s support for Hezbollah. This memo and the pro-Iran principles that it represents could not be a better endorsement for the Strengthening Oversight of Iran’s Access to Finance Act.”
– Representative Roger Williams (R, TX-25)
Dear Representative Williams,
Thank you for citing the National Iranian American Council on the floor of the House of Representatives. We appreciate that you were so moved by our memo opposing your legislation that you decided to cite it for your colleagues, though I fear you appear to be quite misinformed about our work and, frankly, what it means to be a patriotic American. As a result, we thought that we would elaborate on our work to protect the rights of Iranian Americans (and indeed all Americans) and to prevent a disastrous war between the U.S. and Iran.
Your comments were delivered as you urged your colleagues to vote in favor of H.R.4324, a bill that you authored which would attempt to block the U.S. from selling civilian aircraft to Iran as permitted under the Iran deal. Not only would your bill put thousands of American jobs in jeopardy by potentially killing the Boeing deal and other aircraft sales, but would push the administration to unravel a key part of the nuclear deal – the commitment to allow the sale of new civilian aircraft to Iran. Even more immediately, we oppose your bill on humanitarian grounds because it threatens the lives of ordinary Iranians who have been forced by decades of sanctions to travel on outdated and notoriously dangerous airplanes and are only now beginning to see relief. With Shah-era technology still in use, these aircraft that are over 50 years old have been labeled “flying coffins” by the Iranian people.
Would you fly from Washington to your district in Texas on a 50 year-old airplane? Even more, would you feel comfortable having your family fly on a 50 year-old airplane? There is a direct humanitarian benefit to permitting the sale of new aircraft to Iran, which will also benefit Iranian Americans when they return to the country to visit family.
That being said, we were most disturbed that your comments seemed to suggest that, because our grassroots, member-supported organization opposes broad sanctions that undermine U.S. interests and punish ordinary Iranians, we are less than American. You implied that, because we oppose President Trump’s Muslim ban that has repeatedly ripped families apart over the past year, we should be considered “pro-Iran” rather than an American community organization that deserves a voice in the debate on issues that impact us. Representative Williams – you may think that our community doesn’t deserve a seat at the table, but the fact of the matter is that we already have a seat and we will not be silenced.
President Trump has now issued three separate bans on Iranians and other primarily Muslim-majority countries, which you have supported. The third is still tied up in the courts but is now in effect. Contrary to your assertion that the Supreme Court has “upheld” the Muslim ban, the Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling on the merits of the legal challenges or Constitutionality of the ban. Meanwhile, the Iranian-American community and other affected communities continue to be impacted. At a hospital in Austin, right on the border of your own Congressional district, one Iranian American was urgently seeking a visa for her sister from Iran to visit her ill mother in the U.S. who could pass away at any time. By supporting Trump’s Muslim ban, you are telling that Texas family that they can’t visit their ill mother in the United States at her bedside. We will not end our efforts to defeat this unconstitutional and discriminatory Muslim ban that makes America less safe – whether in the courts or in Congress.
We make no apologies for our defense of the Iran deal either. Many Iranian Americans have witnessed war firsthand through the Iran-Iraq war, a war in which the U.S. armed Saddam Hussein as he launched rockets at Iranian cities. All witnessed the devastation from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and fear that absent diplomatic compromise, Iran – including our families and friends in the country – would suffer the same fate. The nuclear agreement resulted in the U.S. stepping back from the brink of war, and Iran verifiably rolling back its nuclear program.
As you can see, our organization and the Iranian-American community have strong reasons both to overturn Trump’s unconscionable ban on our families and to support the Iran deal as a means to prevent war and ease the sanctions that have primarily hurt the Iranian people. These are not “pro-Iran” principles – they are American principles, and our community has the right and duty to voice and protect them.
The Iranian-American community will not stand quietly by while you mock the foundational principles of our democracy and it will not give a rubber stamp to legislation that increases the risk of war with Iran. We hope you will reconsider your comments and we look forward to making sure our community knows exactly where you stand on the issues and their right to have a voice on policies that impact them. To that end, we would be happy to discuss this further with you in person – we can come to you or host it at our office and can even livestream it. Let’s have a face to face conversation about your bill and your views on the Iran deal and the Muslim ban, and our community’s role in this democracy. Our invitation is open, Congressman, so please let us know if you want to have that conversation.
Jamal Abdi, Executive Director, NIAC Action