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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 Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Congress, Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Immigration Policy

Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World”

News traveled fast about Rep. Gresham Barrett’s plan to label every Iranian a terrorist and bar them from the US, even making it onto last night’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Fh4yaugNo]

While we would never go so far as to label Rep. Barrett the “worst person in the world,” we think it’s safe to assume the STEP Act of 2010 would make the list of top 5 “worst bills.”

update: Rep. Barrett formally introduced the bill today, saying it would strengthen national security through “common sense changes” to US immigration laws.  We’re not sure what definition of “common sense” he’s using to label every man, woman, and child a “terrorist” simply because of where they come from, but we have some ideas

  • 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!

  • 8 January 2010
  • Posted By Nayda Lakelieh
  • 3 Comments
  • Congress, Culture, Iranian American Life

Khodahafez America?

This week Congressman Greshman Barrett announced that he would like to reintroduce the Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act, originally introduced in 2003. STEP is an attempt to “step up” national security policies by amending our nation’s current immigration policies. Basically, the STEP ACT would prohibit the admission of aliens from countries deemed to be “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” including Iran.

The United States has come a long way since the days of the Mayflower — in both good ways and bad — but our nation was ultimately founded by immigrants; everyone has immigrant roots, including Congressman Barrett.

One could say to suddenly bar all Iranians seeking to come to the US could be seen as a eugenic measure of some sort, keeping out specific groups of “aliens” from US soil, and adhering to the bigoted idea that only specific ethnic groups belong within the US. It would also deport Iranians on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange visas, and even tourist visas within 60 days. This would mean that if the STEP Act were to pass, my Calculus tutor Bijan would be deported before we even take our final exams, simply for being here on a student visa.

The STEP Act doesn’t take into account that Bijan has only twenty more credits to complete his B.S. in Biology, simply focusing on the fact that he is Iranian.

Even those seeking emergency medical treatment, political, or religious asylum will only be granted entry after “extensive federal screening.”  Anyone who has experienced the “extensive federal screening” process knows how difficult it is.

If a law like this had been implemented ten, twenty, even thirty years ago many of us Iranian-Americans would not be here today. Many of the great contributions that Iranian Americans have made to the United States — in medicine, engineering, science, and academia — would not have occurred.

The US has tried rounding up people based on where they or their families were born — Japanese internment camps during WWII being the most poignant example — and there are even some pundits in Washington who still think it was a good idea.  But even in today’s frenzied political atmosphere where teabaggers set the bounds for discourse, this has to be crossing a line, right?

If you think so, check out what NIAC is doing on this.

Congressman Introducing Legislation to Bar & Deport Iranians from U.S.

Congressman Gresham Barrett (R-SC) has announced his intention to reintroduce legislation that would prohibit “the admission of aliens from countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism as well as Yemen to the United States.”  The Stop Terrorist Entry Program (STEP) Act, first introduced in 2003, also would have required all persons from these countries on student visas, temporary work visas, exchange and tourist visas to leave the United States within 60 days, despite their legal status in the country.  Residents and nationals of Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen would be affected.

The bill makes an exception only in the cases of individuals who are seeking political or religious asylum, or who have immediate emergency medical needs.

Congressman Barrett said his bill came in response to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas-day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit. “While President Obama may have declared an end to the War on Terror, it is clear our enemies did not get the message. Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation and the Administration has failed to adapt its national security and immigration policies to counter the renewed resolve of those who seek to harm our citizens.”

The American Army major and Nigerian alleged to have committed those attacks would not have been affected by the STEP Act.

In response to Barrett’s announcement, the National Iranian American Council has launched a campaign against the bill, saying it is “offensive to American principles, harmful to US interests, and discriminates against Iranians and Iranian Americans.”  The group also noted that no Iranian has ever committed a terrorist act on American soil.

The 2003 version of the bill is available online.  Congressman Barrett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.  Aside from the inclusion of Yemen, and a new provision to prohibit the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison to the United States, Congressman Barrett has not indicated any further differences between his new bill and the legislation he introduced in 2003.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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