The American Dilemma -- Punishing The Innocent In The Name of National Security

Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order o
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York.

A little known fact from the tragic San Bernardino terror incident perfectly captures the essence of why Americans of Iranian descent are so torn by President Trump’s recent executive order, aimed at “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry.” On December 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, while an American woman of Iranian descent fell victim to that terror attack, another American of Iranian descent was among the first responders on the scene. America again watched in horror, grieving the cruel effects of terrorism on our homeland.  But regardless of gender, faith, or national origin, we were all Americans on that tragic day.

Fast forward, 13 months later, and President Trump’s executive order imposing a ban on the very same Americans, now prevents their families from visiting, denies them access to emergency medical treatment in the U.S., and separates them from their loved ones indefinitely.

We are all too familiar with adversarial relations between our government and that of Iran. However, the great majority of Iranians who came to America, as many other immigrant groups and refugees before them, did so to leave behind persecution and oppression. They are victims, not terrorists, and by virtue of that very fact, Iranians are the least likely to engage in terrorism.

Furthermore, by using a broad brush to label all Muslims as enemies of America, the order ignores the fact that there has never been a single act of terror committed by anyone of Iranian descent in the United States. Iranians were not among the perpetrators of 9/11 or the San Bernardino attack or any of the other acts of terror that have taken place in the United States. If anything, Iranians are today a primary target and victim of ISIS – which targets not only Christians, Jews and other “infidels,” but also rejects Iran’s Shia Islam as a perversion of the faith. This is all the more remarkable given the fact that countries whose nationals have been active in committing acts of terror on U.S. soil are entirely exempted from this order, calling into question its efficacy and intent.

Moreover, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the people of Iran have consistently demonstrated their affinity for the core values of our American democracy including liberty, freedom, and the rule of law.  On 9/11 they spontaneously held emotional candlelight vigils expressing solidarity with our victims. So, by unfairly targeting all Iranians, the executive order undermines the solidarity between those who live in democratic countries like America and those working hard to implement these ideals in their own countries.  

Here, Iranian Americans prove every day that we are patriotic and fully support our national security concerns. We serve on the front lines of our national defense, whether on the battlefield, in government, or as technology-providers and first responders.  However, given the questionable legality of such a widespread ban based on national origin or faith, today we offer our loyal opposition to the blanket ban on the entry of Iranian nationals, viewing it as misplaced punishment and detrimental to our national security. This sentiment is consistent with what then-Governor Pence declared in December 2015: “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.”

Instead, we believe a balance can be struck that addresses our national security concerns without alienating more than two million Americans of Iranian descent, 70 million Iranian nationals and Muslims worldwide while imposing unnecessary pain and human suffering on the innocent. Accordingly, The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) urges the president to make clear that his executive order does not ban the re-entry of established permanent residents, dual nationals and those who have secured valid visas, and to avoid a policy based on national origin and faith. Even President Reagan exempted the relatives of Americans in 1986 with respect to the entry of Cubans into the United States. This in no way contradicts the need for rigorous background checks, which we agree is essential.

As a nation of immigrants, America has always made room for the next wave of “the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...” Without exception, each wave of immigrants has had to pay its dues before fully assimilating into America: The fact is, street discrimination is a simple reality every immigrant faces, but that immigrant has always looked up to the Constitution and the Office of the President to act as his or her champion, guaranteeing that they will never be violated by way of legalized discrimination.

As the leader of a nation of immigrants, it is our sincere hope that President Trump will adhere to the best of American values and reevaluate his executive order, keeping it consistent with our constitutional values and the governing immigration laws of the land, while ensuring our national security.  Accordingly, we urge the amendment of the order to exclude relatives of American citizens as well as permanent residents and students, no matter what their national origin or faith.