Iranian-Americans face the same conundrum all American voters have during this year's presidential election. You can either vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, a third party candidate, or abstain all together. In 2012, about 30 percent of Iranian-Americans eligible to vote abstained on Election Day. Those numbers might be much higher now.
The argument why neither Clinton nor Trump are palatable for the U.S. presidency are similar across the board, but for some Iranian-Americans there seems to be added contempt directed towards Clinton's comments regarding Iranians and Iran over the years. Some have even likened a vote for Clinton as being equivalent to a Mexican voting for Trump. So what is at stake as an Iranian-American in this upcoming U.S. election?
Clinton's feelings about Iran
Fresh in the mind of Iranian-Americans was when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called "the Iranians" her enemies during the first democratic debate in October 2015. She was likely referring to the Iranian government, but her language--especially during a time of heightened Islamophobia later exasperated by her rival Donald Trump--was offensive because it could've meant anything from the Iranian Diaspora to the 80 million Iranians residing in Iran.
Then there was Clinton's comment when she told Good Morning America during the 2008 presidential election, "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran." It was a reference to if Iran ever attacked Israel, which is silent knowledge when it comes to U.S. foreign policy regardless of who is president. Clinton followed up with, "That's a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic." Some Iranian-Americans took her statement to heart because they still have relatives in Iran and continue to travel back and forth. Clinton continues to take this stance, but not with such harsh wording.
While Clinton is a known foreign policy hawk, despite her controversial statements on Iran, it is worth noting she endorsed and continues to endorse the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Deal. Donald Trump vehemently opposes the nuclear deal to the extent it is reportedly one of the main reasons why he ran for office. Clinton likes to take credit for leading the sanctions regime on Iran and argues that was how she got Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place--depending on whom you ask.
Clinton's policies aside, the irony of abstention is Iranian-Americans saw how it played out in Iran during the 2005 presidential elections. Many Iranians boycotted the election due to disillusionment with President Mohammad Khatami's lack of reform and inability to stand up during times of tension like the 1999 student uprisings. Their actions essentially ushered in the presidency of little known hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a wave of conservative votes. The backlash was felt in 2009 when Iranians poured out to vote for reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. The outcome of that election is another story.
Then there's the argument about how minority groups aren't voting for Donald Trump. Wrong. Not only are there some Latinos voting for Trump, some Iranian-Americans plan to as well. As one friend put it, "you really believe Crooked Hillary would be a better president than Trump?" Even though only eight percent of Iranian-Americans identify as republicans, the scales may tip this election season.
This isn't a plea to ask Iranian-Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton. However, when it comes to minorities, it's unclear whether we stand a chance against a man who spews vitriol and rants about bans and walls. It's also a known fact the Iranian-American vote isn't a game changer the way the Latino vote is in the U.S. presidential election. Aside from the usual spiel about not taking democratic elections for granted, there is more to voting than determining a new president. By abstaining, there's a missed opportunity to participate in legislative issues and elect representatives who take stances on policies Iranian-Americans may be in favor of or against.
If not for protecting the Iran Deal and preventing another unnecessary war, Iranian-Americans need to have a voice in the political process. The passing of H.R. 158 is a perfect example of that. In December 2015, the bill passed under most of our noses and by the time the Iranian-American community unified, it was too late. The updated Visa Waiver Program affected families and friends in the European Union (EU). The new law suddenly impacted everything from vacations, weddings, to family emergencies. EU citizens didn't even have to have blood ties to Iran. Solely by traveling to Iran for work or pleasure, EU citizens now have to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. Since the Visa Waiver Program is based off of reciprocity, the EU has expressed interest in taking a similar action against U.S. citizens, but has since been tied up with Brexit.*
If you don't know where to start, there are initiatives like the National Iranian American Council's Beshkan the Vote that are advocating the importance of the Iranian-American vote during the 2016 election. They argue, "Your vote is your voice. If we want to have a say in the political process, we must use our voice. This is our year to protect our values, prevent discrimination, and advance peace and diplomacy."
That's something we can all agree with regardless of political affiliation.
*NOTE: Iraq, Syria, and Sudan are also listed.