This election cycle has demonstrated that the Iranian-American community cannot afford to sit on the political sidelines. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has used bigotry and hatred toward Muslims to fuel his campaign, and Amid Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric, Congress passed the discriminatory H.R. 158 bill that bars Iranian dual nationals from the Visa Waiver Program, solely on the basis of their family heritage. If Trump wins, H.R. 158 could be the first law of many that targets individuals on the basis of their Iranian origin.
On the Iran nuclear accord, Trump, his Republican allies and some Democrats have continued to distort the accord as a bad deal. And while Clinton has vowed to stick with the deal, she may not be as eager as the Obama administration to expand the diplomatic opening with Iran to address other critical issues.
The Iranian-American community can and should play a vital role in helping protect and expand the diplomatic opening with Iran. Of course, the community has strengths and weaknesses to engage in those battles. On the positive side, we are one of the most successful and affluent immigrant groups in the United States, with world-renowned leaders in virtually every field. Our community’s concentration in states like California and New York means that even though we are a relatively small group, we can have an outsized impact with many lawmakers.
However, we still have work to do to broaden our community’s civic engagement. Understandably, many in the community have shied away from engaging in the political sphere, sometimes as a result of painful memories or a desire for privacy. It should be clear, though, that failing to make your voice heard means that somebody else will speak for you. And many times, that voice won’t sing a tune that you much care for.
There are going to be many important fights for our community ahead. While we have succeeded in highlighting the discriminatory effects of H.R. 158 and have helped ensure that bipartisan legislation was introduced to repeal restrictions on dual nationals, that legislation has been blocked from receiving consideration from certain hostile lawmakers. To overcome the roadblocks in Washington and ensure that H.R. 158 is reversed, the Iranian-American community will need to keep the pressure on Congress and make sure they know that this continues to be a priority for the community. If they fail to hear from us, the restrictions risk becoming a fact of life, ensuring that Iranian dual nationals in Europe and elsewhere are treated as second-class citizens while making it more difficult for them to visit family in the United States.
The Iran nuclear deal is certain to receive fresh challenges in the weeks and months ahead. Congress will likely consider legislation to renew the Iran Sanctions Act before the end of the year, which is set to expire in December. Many of the deal’s fiercest opponents are eager to use this legislation to force votes on deal-killing sanctions measures.
Next year, a new U.S. administration will come into office. We will no longer be able to rely on the Obama administration to protect the deal, and may need to encourage a Clinton administration to broaden the opening. If Donald Trump becomes President, we will need to intensely mobilize to prevent the dismantling of the accord, safeguard our community against bigotry and discrimination and potentially avoid a backslide into war.
One of the key ways we can continue to fight the battles ahead is by supporting and strengthening the institutions that advocate on our behalf. I am proud to serve on the board of the National Iranian American Council, which has increased our community’s engagement in the political process and amplified our community’s voice in Washington. Whether working to secure the nuclear deal and lift harmful sanctions, or advocating for the rights of Iranian-Americans in the face of discrimination, NIAC has supported our community in both word and deed. Unfortunately, NIAC is consistently underfunded compared to groups like AIPAC and J Street. In 2014, for instance, AIPAC raised more than $77 million in revenue and stockpiled $30 million of that money for the future. Clearly, they are waiting for the next administration to renew the fight. J Street, which has allied with NIAC on many issues, raised $2.4 million. NIAC, meanwhile, raised $1.1 million. If we want to have an influential voice in politics and secure our rights, it is vital that we invest in and strengthen the organizations looking out for our community.
We have a long road ahead of us. And no matter what the future holds, it is up to us to ensure that we are ready and able to fight for decades to come.