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Civil Rights Legislation

Iranian 9/11 Hero: STEP Act a Mistake

Shahram's story became well known after Newsweek featured a photo of him.

New York – When Shahram Hashemi saw an airplane fly into the second World Trade Center building and smoke spewing from the first tower, he knew it wasn’t an accident. So Shahram, a young Iranian university student who had only been in the U.S. for three years, made a remarkable decision. As others fled the scene, Shahram found himself running toward the epicenter of the worst terrorist attack ever seen on American soil.

“A few minutes after the first tower collapsed, I found myself in a war zone,” Shahram said.  In the middle of the chaos, he began helping move shocked and confused people away from the towers to a safe place.

Seeing him in his business suit, a local fire chief threw his heavy coat over Shahram’s shoulders and handed him a mask. Just then, the second tower began to buckle and he sought refuge in the nearby AmEx Building. Emerging from the building, Shahram joined a group of civilian volunteers to extinguish fires and clear rubble for the search and rescue teams. All day he worked until the soot, dust and exhaustion took hold of him.

That day, Shahram helped save over a dozen lives – while here in America on a student visa.

  • 14 January 2010
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 1 Comments
  • Civil Rights Legislation, Congress, Immigration Policy

Tell Congress to Stop the STEP Act

Last week, NIAC united the Iranian-American community against Congressman Gresham Barrett’s (R-SC) plan to reintroduce the Stop Terrorist Entry Program (STEP) Act, a bill he originally introduced in 2003 that sought to deport all non-immigrant Iranians in the US and ban Iranians from entering the US.

Iranian Americans immediately sprung into action, sending nearly 5,000 letters calling on Rep. Barrett to rethink his disgraceful legislation.  Hours after NIAC delivered your letters to his office, Rep. Barrett confirmed to NIAC that the deportation language would be removed in the revised bill.

This was a major victory, but the fight is not over yet.

The STEP Act was introduced on January 13th-it still labels all Iranians as “terrorists” and would ban them from getting US visas. This bill would prevent Iranians from visiting their family in the US, and at a time of increasing repression in Iran, would impose even greater burdens on Iranians seeking refuge.

  • 13 January 2010
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 1 Comments
  • Civil Rights Legislation, Immigration Policy

Breaking News: Language to Deport Iranians Dropped from STEP Act

Major Victory for Iranian-American Community

Washington DC – Congressman Gresham Barrett’s (R-SC) office has confirmed to NIAC that he will drop language aimed at deporting non-immigrant Iranians from the U.S. when he reintroduces the Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act today.

This is a major victory for the Iranian-American community.

When the STEP Act was first introduced in 2003, it contained provisions that would have mandated the deportation of all Iranians on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange visas, and tourist visas from the United States within 60 days.

On Tuesday, NIAC staff hand-delivered over 3,500 letters from concerned Americans, asking the Congressman to reconsider his legislation.

Though the elimination of the deportation provisions constitutes a significant victory for the Iranian-American community, the bill remains problematic. It would make it illegal for Iranians to travel to the United States, though some exceptions may be made for medical emergencies and political or religious asylum after “extensive federal screening.”

“Eliminating the deportation provisions is welcomed but it isn’t enough,” said Trita Parsi, President of NIAC. “We shouldn’t make it more difficult for Iranians to seek refuge in the US at a time when repression in Iran is increasing.”

Say No to Iranian Deportation Bill – Deadline Tomorrow

As you know, Congressman Gresham Barrett (R-SC) announced last week that he plans to introduce shameful legislation (the STEP Act) instituting the mass deportation of Iranians and blocking Iranians from visiting the US.

This bill would tear apart families and force all Iranians who have visas for work or school to be expelled from the country within 60 days of passage.

Thanks to many of you, over 2,000 letters have been signed calling on Congressman Barrett to abandon the STEP Act! But there’s still more work to be done to make sure this outrageous proposal does not go forward.

Tomorrow we will be delivering your messages in person to Congressman Barrett’s office in Washington DC.

The more letters we have to deliver, the bigger your voices will be—we want to make sure that Congressman Barrett gets the message, so we need a big push from you.

Now is the time to reach out to your friends and family to make sure they join the 2,000 people who have already signed their letter calling on Congressman Barrett to abandon the STEP Act. Everyone should be aware of this disgraceful proposal so that they can voice their opposition and stop the bill.

So please, forward this link to all of your friends and family and encourage them to sign our letter today so that tomorrow we can tell Rep. Barrett to stop the STEP Act!

  • 20 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • 1 Comments
  • Civil Rights Legislation, Congress, Iranian American Life

Failure to Launch: The Terrorist Watchlist

Erich Scherfen was an infantryman in the first Gulf War and then a National Guard helicopter pilot. In total, his career with the U.S. military covered thirteen years. After leaving the military with an honorable discharge, Scherfen became a pilot for the regional airline Colgan Air Inc. Despite his history of exemplary service, Scherfen discovered in 2008 that he was in danger of losing his job because his name appeared on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Terrorist Watchlist. Scherfen had no clue why his name was on the Watchlist, and discovered that there was no system for removing his name. As a result, Scherfen was forced to take the DHS to court in an ongoing bid to clear his name.

Unfortunately, Erich Scherfen’s story is not an unfamiliar one, especially to persons of Middle Eastern descent. Far too many American citizens find themselves on the Watchlist after being incorrectly labeled as terrorists or even victims of mistaken identity. People who are misidentified as terrorists cannot check-in to flights online or use the automated check-in booths. Instead, they must take extra time and have an agent at the ticket counter confirm that they are an average person and not a terrorist, and are also subject to repeated security searches.

On February 4th, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill allowing people wrongly placed on DHS’s Terrorist Watchlist to file an appeal to have their name removed. The bill, The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Redress Act of 2009, was introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) on January 15, 2009. It passed through the House with a vote of 413 – 3. Since that time, the FAST Act has wallowed in legislative limbo.

  • 4 March 2009
  • Posted By Sahar Jooshani
  • 1 Comments
  • Civil Rights Legislation, Culture, Iranian American Life

Civil rights in jeopardy in Oklahoma

oklahoma-flag1Our founding fathers would roll over in their graves if they could only see the events taking place in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

On March 2nd, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed legislation (H.B. 1645) that would “strictly prohibit” individuals from wearing “head scarves” and “head garments” in driver’s license photographs. Members of the House voted 88-8 in favor of the measure.

The Tulsa World, an Oklahoman media outlet, reported that the legislation was introduced by Oklahoma Republican Rep. Rex Duncan in light of the Norman Department of Motor Vehicles allowing Monique Barrett, a Muslim woman, to take her driver’s license photo while wearing a hijab.

In the past Rep. Duncan has made headlines by refusing to accept a copy of the Quran as a gift from the Governor’s Ethnic American Advisory Council. When asked for comment, Rep. Duncan was quoted as saying “Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology….I know that not all Muslims are terrorists, but I don’t know of another religion or ideology that employs terrorism and the threat of terrorism.’’

To be or not to be: what is your identity?

Soldiers crowding the streets, strapped with imaginary guns, make their way through the city as they reenact combat as if they are on the streets of Baghdad.  Military veterans from Iraq are only few of the many groups in Denver, here to make a statement.  Everybody here has a message, whether in suits and in formal panels, or in dreadlocks and on the streets.  But it is obvious what the big issues are: everything!  Oil dependency, the economy, poverty, environment, race/gender/ethnicity/religious issues, women’s issues, healthcare, foreign policy, to name a few and all of them with their own long list of subcategories.