February 24, 2016, Washington D.C. – A coalition of 50 different national and local civil rights, faith, refugee and non-profit organizations joined together to send a joint letter to Department of Homeland Security Jeh Jonson, calling for for executive action to waive discriminatory prohibitions based on national origin under the Visa Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 participating countries to travel to the U.S., Europe, Japan, and South Korea without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. The program reforms passed into law last year as part of the December 2015 Omnibus Spending bill would exclude dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria or anyone who has traveled to those countries in the past five years from visa-free travel to the United States.
“Targeting individuals based on national origin or family heritage would divert resources from legitimate law enforcement activities. An individual’s national origin or family heritage is not a valid or useful criterion by which to judge whether they pose a security threat” the organizations wrote. “Devoting resources to screen people based on their place of birth, residence, national origin, or family heritage is a diversion of resources and counterproductive to securing our nation.”
The executive action proposed will address the exclusion of dual nationals from the Visa Waiver Program by calling on the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland security to change the way the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act is implemented. As the letter states: “Only by utilizing your legal authority waiver can this Administration protect dual nationals and shield targeting of these communities, and protect U.S. law enforcement and national security interests in the process. We strongly urge your Administration…to legally waive the dual nationality and travel ban provisions”
In conjunction to this effort, the signees offer support to the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 explaining that “Congressional members introduced in both the Senate and House the Equal Protection in Travel Act with bipartisan support. These legislative actions were taken in recognition of the fact that the prohibition against dual nationals under the VWP Act is discriminatory, perpetuates profiling based on national origin, is ineffective to actually address security, and directly contradicts American values.”
PAAIA has been a driving force for ending the discriminatory legislation, co-authoring this letter as part of its continuing campaign for protection of dual nationals. Additionally, PAAIA has been in direct communication with Members of Congress to express Iranian American opposition to the Visa Waiver Program Reforms. But we can’t do it without the support of the community. Together, PAAIA Members have sent hundreds of letters to Congress advocating for change. Click here to take action and join our campaign!