November 23, 2015 Washington, D.C.— In the wake of the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris, Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul introduced legislation that would suspend visa issuance for countries with a high risk of terrorism. In addition, the senator introduced an amendment to the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations that would block resettlement assistance benefits for refugees or asylees from certain designated countries.
On November 16th, Senator Paul announced that he has introduced legislation to prevent terrorists from entering the country through our immigration and visa system. “Not just the refugees—but all immigrants, visitors and students until we know what’s going on,” the Kentucky senator told Newsmax TV last week. “We should put a stop to it if they’re coming from countries that have large jihadist movements, and it’s about 35 countries that we’ve listed in the bill.” If enacted, the proposed legislation could effectively place a moratorium on all Iranians seeking to come to the United States.
On November 19th, Senator Paul sought a vote on his amendment to prohibit funds to assist new refugees or asylees from 34 countries, including Iran. The refugee resettlement program aims to support refugees seeking safe haven within the United States, including victims of human trafficking, those seeking asylum from persecution, survivors of torture and war, and unaccompanied alien children. Current prioritization under the program is given to persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.
The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) is opposed to legislation that effectively bans individuals from certain countries coming to America based solely on their nationality. While PAAIA supports taking appropriate and necessary measures to protect the national security of the United States, we believe the proposed legislation is not only discriminatory but also has the potential to encourage xenophobia and hatred.
Not only do the bill and amendment introduced by Senator Paul unfairly target the people of Iran, and other Muslim majority countries, but they also undermine U.S. policy of directly engaging the Iranian people. Iran maintains a sizable young, urban, and highly educated population that holds favorable views towards America. Furthermore, the measures are offensive to the Iranian American community which is composed of hard-working, law-abiding citizens that work daily to strengthen the economic and social structures of this country.
In light of these concerns, PAAIA has contacted Senator Paul’s office to start a dialogue and express our concerns about his legislation.
While Senator Paul’s legislative efforts are receiving some attention on the campaign trail and in the media, there is very little chance that they will be enacted into law. The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed legislation that would require additional vetting for refugees from Syria and Iraq. In the Senate, bipartisan group of leaders are focusing their efforts on the visa waiver program which they feel poses a greater security threat than the multi-year rigorously vetted process under the refugee resettlement process.