Iranian American Organizations Contact Bank of Hawaii Regarding Closures of Accounts of Iranian Citizens

March 6, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), along with the Iranian American Bar Association and the Pars Equality Center, sent a letter to the Bank of Hawaii in response to recent reports of the bank’s termination of all accounts belonging to customers with Iranian citizenship.

The Bank of Hawaii has stated that such termination is due to the U.S. economic sanctions administered by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). While acknowledging that all U.S. financial institutions must adhere to the U.S. economic sanctions, the authors state that “these regulations do not require or imply that banks refuse to conduct business with individuals who are merely Iranian citizens, but not ordinarily resident in Iran.”

The letter notes that U.S. Legal Permanent Residents and U.S. naturalized citizens born in Iran are deemed to be a citizen of Iran, as is anyone born in the United States whose father is a national of Iran. As a result, the closure of all accounts belonging to customers with Iranian citizenship is essentially discriminating against individuals based on their country of birth or their ethnicity. “Clearly, Bank of Hawaii has overreached in seeking to comply with the ITSR and U.S. economic sanctions against Iran,” the letter states.

The letter also explains that this closure could be violating federal civil rights laws as well as the Hawaii Constitution. “The blanket termination of all accounts of Iranian citizens is discriminatory under the Civil Rights Act, and a gross misapplication of the ITSR and U.S. sanctions targeting Iran,” write the authors. “It is a bedrock principle of U.S. civil rights law that businesses operating in the United States shall not discriminate against any person on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, or religion.”

PAAIA will continue to follow this issue and other incidents that impact the welfare of our community and will take appropriate action as needed.

Click here to read the full letter.

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