The Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to uphold President Trump’s travel ban on citizens of seven countries (five of which are Muslim-majority) is not just discriminatory. It also hurts the prospects for democracy in Iran.
Make no mistake, this is and has always been a Muslim ban. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court’s decision, “erodes the foundational principles of religious tolerance that the court elsewhere has so emphatically protected, and it tells members of minority religions in our country ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’ ”
For Iranian Americans, that sounds about right. They have worked hard for decades to become one of the most well-integrated and successful immigrant communities in this country, both in terms of education and income. The travel ban is merely the latest confirmation of a grim realization: We aren’t wanted here. How could we be, if our relatives are viewed solely as security risks?
If you look at the numbers, Trump’s travel ban could be described more accurately as an “Iran ban.” Of the total of those likely to be affected, Iranians make up the majority.
Last year, there were 17,000 students from the list of banned countries studying in American colleges and universities. More than 12,000 them were Iranian. 35,000 Iranians visited the United States on non-immigrant visas in 2015. Mind you, those numbers are a fraction of what they once were. During the 1960s, Iranians sent more students to the United States than any other country in the world.
The Supreme Court decision is yet another reminder to Iranians everywhere that they have no allies — neither in their home country’s government nor in that of the United States. The sad irony is that the travel ban plays into the hands of the clerical regime that still runs the country.
Young Iranians, in particular, have traditionally viewed the United States — a country they see as the embodiment of openness, meritocracy, and rule of law — as the antithesis of Iran’s overbearing theocracy. Now the Supreme Court has unmistakably delivered the message that Iranians don’t deserve to partake of the American Dream — even as visitors.
This week, protestors in Iran’s largest cities are once again taking to the streets to express their discontent with the dismal state of their country. And this is the moment the United States has chosen to label all of its Iranian admirers as undesirables.
The Trump administration likes to parrot the line that it supports the aspirations of Iranians to achieve a better, more democratic future for themselves. From now on, this claim stands exposed as fiction. Rest assured that the mullahs in Tehran couldn’t be happier.
Over the past 15 years, I have sponsored visa applications for numerous Iranian friends and relatives, writing letters in support of their visits, and assuming legal and financial responsibility for them. Some of those requests have been granted, but most are denied.
Iranians already endure some of the most stringent rules for entry into the United States. While the citizens of many countries either require no visa for entry, or are granted 10-year multiple-entry visas, Iranians receive a single entry, with the length of their visa — not to exceed six months — determined on arrival in the United States.
Should those lucky few who visit the United States decide they want to reapply in the future after returning home, they have to travel to a third country, usually Turkey, Armenia or the United Arab Emirates. That’s because there hasn’t been an active U.S. Embassy in Iran since 1979, when fundamentalists took members of its staff hostage and detained 52 of them for 444 days.
Despite all those barriers to entry, Iranians still want to come here. For decades their top destination — to visit, to study in, and to emigrate to — has been the United States. It should be U.S. policy to encourage them to come. Nothing we could do will increase the prospects of democracy in Iran more than increasing the flow of people between the two countries.
As for Iranian Americans, what are we supposed to take away from all of this? There are a million of us in this country. If our relatives in Iran are automatically suspect, are we not as well? Can we really consider ourselves to be equal citizens?
It is not so long ago that other American citizens who had relatives deemed members of a hostile nation were singled out for long-term detention. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. But for the first time in my life I’m thinking about it.