The war on terror and ISIS in particular has hit home in Santa Rosa. Its effects have shaken me and over a million Iranian Americans (and certainly other Muslim Americans) to the core. Not unlike Kristallnacht or the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, those perceived as Muslim immigrants are becoming victims in this ill-fought war. The events that lead to Kristallnacht started with the same type of hateful ideology, except sadly this is happening today in the United States.
I have lived in this country for 38 years and managed to gain an education which has afforded me a good life. I have been married 24 years to my loving wife who happens to be a Catholic American of European heritage and have two beautiful American children and two American grandchildren. I have been a productive American citizen for decades and proudly hold an American passport, which enables me to travel freely with all the privileges afforded to Americans.
Unfortunately, due to the tragic terrorist attack in San Bernardino and hateful rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump, the House of Representatives passed HR 158, which was also approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama in mid-December as part of the $1.1 trillion funding bill. This law in essence robs me of my rights as a citizen based on my ethnicity.
I am heartbroken.
If this law stands, ISIS will have won a historic victory. Alienation of people like me in no way will improve our national security or make our country a better place for all its citizens. The question is, do we want an America where citizens are segregated based on their religion or national origins? Or do we commit to respecting the U.S. Constitution and the Bill Of Rights?
HR 158 alters the Visa Waiver Program, which enables citizens to travel within 38 countries including the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea without a visa. The bill requires that any dual citizen from Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or anyone who has traveled to these counties in the past five years, to be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program. So if my French (citizen) brother or relatives from a number of EU countries were to come to the United States, as many do routinely, they are no longer treated as European nationals and need to apply for a visa.
As these treaties are reciprocal, there will be restrictions imposed on Americans like me. In other words, I now need to apply for a visa to travel, where my wife and children will be traveling free of restrictions. I will be ushered through a different gate as a second-class citizen of the United Sates. I submit to you that if all Americans were subjected to this restriction on free travel, there would be an uproar.
I have lived my life as an exemplary citizen and a fully assimilated member of the society. I never in the past called myself an Iranian-American; just an American. I resent that I have been reminded that I am an Iranian-American. I feel as though my government is dissimilating me now. That I am on the fringe and dispensable.
What is more tragic to me on a personal level is the feeling of betrayal by my own government, demoting me to second-class status based on my country of origin and assumed religious persuasion. The assumption that I, or millions like me, are potential sleeper ISIS or al-Qaida members waiting for the right moment to strike is ludicrous. The fact that I have lived 38 of my 59 years in this country seems meaningless.