Entry Ban: Don't Punish Iran's Citizens And Iranian-Americans, Punish Iran's Government

Iran is one of seven countries whose citizens have been prohibited from arriving in the U.S. for the next three months by an executive order aimed at "Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry." Refugees seeking asylum from discrimination and persecution by the Islamic Republic's authorities, including Christians, Jews, Bahais, and Zoroastrians, are on hold for 120 days as well. Even Iranians holding U.S. permanent residency can be subject to extra vetting and admitted or rejected on a case-by-case basis by the Department of Homeland Security when they seek re-entry to their American homeland. Probably seeking to exacerbate the situation, Iranian armed forces tested a short-range ballistic missile -- which they are called upon in the nuclear deal not to do for 8 years.

Iran's Islamic government, designated by the Department of State as a as a state sponsor of terrorism, has been active in targeting Americans outside the U.S. mainland. U.S. diplomats were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days between 1979 and 1981. Through its terrorist proxies like Hezbollah the Iranian government took American lives at Beirut in 1983 and 1984, at Khobar in 1996, and across Iraq since 2003. Iranian operatives were associated with the TWA flight 847 hijacking in 1985 and the U.S. embassy bombings at Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1988.

The U.S. has not been Tehran's sole target. Iran's regime has aided Hezbollah and Hamas in attacks on Israel, on Israel's embassy at Buenos Aires in 1992 and on a Jewish community center there in 1994. Iran's government has been linked to terrorism in Germany, Bulgaria, and Panama. Now its armed forces and paramilitaries are involved in the civil wars of Iraq and Syria, while it is suspected of aiding Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The vast majority of Iranians cannot be held accountable for the terrorist deeds of a few fundamentalist clerics, anti-western politicians, and fanatical fighters.

But it is unfair and unwise to equate an authoritarian state to its citizens. The vast majority of Iranians cannot be held accountable for the terrorist deeds of a few fundamentalist clerics, anti-western politicians, and fanatical fighters. The entry restrictions are playing in favor of Iran's hardliners who portray it as evidence the U.S. remains hostile to all Iranians.

In Iran more than 60 percent of the population was born after the Islamic Revolution. Although 85 percent are literate, according to United Nations agencies, between 12 percent (official figure) and 30 percent (unofficial estimate) are unemployed. They push for liberty and opportunity. Many women wear the latest western fashions rather than the state-prescribed hijab despite harassment from state-paid morals squads. Others produce music, graffiti, and internet media denouncing the radicalism of ayatollahs. They attempt to vote progressive politicians into office. They circumvent their government's control over information via the internet using smart phones. They travel to the U.S. to gain education and to benefit from our principles and norms.

Whereas approximately 1,500 Iranians entered the U.S. annually between 1950 and 1977, mainly as students, 65 percent have arrived since the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79. They come for freedom from social, political, and religious oppression rather than financial gain and especially not to undermine American values, stability, and security. Moreover, loathing the fanaticism and militancy of Iran's post-revolution leaders, Iranian visitors and Iranian-American permanent residents and citizens harken back to their cultured heritage by calling themselves "Persians."

The US Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated 486,994 Iranians living in this country during 2015. Iranian-American organizations broadly estimate the current number on U.S. soil at between 450,000 to over 1,000,000 individuals--attributing the Census Bureau's lower number to limited self-identification owing to fear of discrimination. Those Iranians include Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Armenians, Balochis, Assyrians, and Turkmen who are Shiites, Sunnis, Bahais, Armenian and Assyrian or Nestorian Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews by faith.

Their median household income averages $72,345 versus $51,939 for the general American population, and Iranian women in the U.S. earn 31 percent more than their counterparts in similar employment situations. The community's poverty rate was 4 percent less than the average U.S. level of 13.5 percent in 2015 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Higher income and lower dependence should not be surprising because 62 percent (including 56 percent of Iranian-American women) have bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and professional degrees.

A George Mason University study in 2013 indicates 30 percent had travelled back to Iran during the previous three years to visit family members, while 66 percent of Iranians communicate via telephone, email, and internet with family and friends inside Iran several times each month. They transmit American values of individual rights to Iranians taking on the oppressive regime in Tehran rather than become terrorists and lawbreakers themselves. Now they fear being regarded, without reasonable cause, as threats to their adopted country's security.

Yet Iranians within the U.S. are rarely associated with acts of terror. One case emphasizes how exceptional terrorism is among the community here: a single Iranian-American citizen was sentenced to 25 years for plotting in 2011 to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington. Another 2 dozen or so Iranians have been convicted for violating sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Iran. Indeed refugees and other immigrants and visitors are only a miniscule risk to public safety as demonstrated by data collected by the Cato Institute.

It is clear that Iranian-Americans, Iranian refugees, and Iranian visitors including bright students contribute immensely to the economic, social, religious, ethnic, and intellectual progress of the US. They should not be barred for they are indeed part of the great American tradition of E pluribus unum that stands us in good stead. Go ahead sanction, isolate, and thwart the regime in Tehran and its proxies, but don't punish its hapless nationals by denying them entry.