23
May

TAKE ACTION NOW: House Judiciary Committee Passes Discriminatory Visa Security Bill

Urge your Representative to oppose efforts that would punish the Iranian people, undermine U.S. interests, and impair the U.S. immigration system.

May 25, 2016, Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee today approved the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 (H.R. 5203) by a partisan vote of 14 for and 10 opposed. If enacted into law, the legislation would negatively impact the Iranian American community, undermine U.S. interests, and make it increasingly difficult for all immigrants and travelers to come to the United States without ensuring our safety from international terrorism.

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The legislation includes a discriminatory provision that mandates the Department of State to complete individualized Security Advisory Opinions (SAO) on all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants who are nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, or Yemen.  This could increase the probability that people who are completely innocent will, by virtue of their nationality, be subject to unnecessary screening procedures and may be improperly barred from entering into the United States. 

The legislation also significantly raises the burden of proof for visa applicants.  This can be detrimental to asylum seekers and refugees as well as foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. and businesses in need of highly skilled workers for STEM and other critical functions.  In addition, the legislation will mandate costly DNA testing for biological family-based immigrant applications even when there are no indications of fraud.

During the markup of the legislation, amendments proposed by the Democratic members of the committee to strip the SAO, burden of proof, and DNA provisions were rejected by Republican members of the committee.  In discussing her opposition to the SAO provision, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member of Immigration and Border Subcommittee, noted PAAIA’s letter to members of Congress that the legislation is “counterintuitive to U.S. policy interests of engaging the Iranian people.”

Lofgren discussed how the provision is both “over inclusive” as it would include Iranian democrats working to reform their country and “under inclusive” as none of the countries from which the perpetrators of the 9/11 and the San Bernardino attacks came from are listed in the legislation.  In addition, Lofgren raised concern that the SAO provision would also apply to dual nationals who were recently excluded from participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

Throughout the debate Democratic members of the committee raised concerns that the legislation serves nativist goals by bringing our legal immigration system to a grinding halt.  Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explained that most foreign students looking to pursue degrees in the U.S. will be denied because they will not be able to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that they will return to their home countries.

In responding to a member that refugees and other immigrants bring their problems to the United States, Lofgren cited the significant contributions of the Iranian American community to the United States, specifically mentioning the community’s success in Silicon Valley.

The House Judiciary Committee vote opens the path for the Visa Integrity and Security Act to be considered for a vote by the entire House of Representatives. The bill has also been referred to the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees. However, the partisan nature of support for the bill raises doubt that it could clear the Senate in its current form.

PAAIA will continue to be in direct communication with members of Congress to express the Iranian American community’s concern with the legislation.  Our letter, as well as a letter sent by NIAC, was submitted as part of the record with the Judiciary Committee.

While we are working hard to ensure this legislation does not adversely impact the Iranian American community, members of Congress need to hear directly from their own constituents.

Urge your Representatives to oppose efforts that would punish the Iranian people, undermine U.S. interests, and impair the U.S. immigration system.    

Whether or not Congress passes this legislation is up to you! 

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