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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Press Release - The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

65 Organizations Urge Congress to Pass Bill to Fix Visa Waiver Discrimination

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shin Inouye, 202.869.0398, inouye@civilrights.org
February 1, 2016

WASHINGTONA broad coalition of 65 civil rights, faith, refugee, and humanitarian aid organizations sent a letter to Congress today voicing their strong support for the bipartisan Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 (H.R. 4380/ S.2449), which would fix a recent amendment to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that discriminates against people with dual nationalities.

As part of the omnibus spending package passed last December, Congress included a discriminatory change to the VWP program that revokes travel privileges based on nationality, ancestry, and parentage. Passed in the onslaught of fear-mongering and anti-Muslim bigotry following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the change creates onerous and superfluous hurdles for dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan. Despite a lack of any compelling security reasons for this restriction, the provision singles out and discriminates against travelers solely because of their parentage.

“Given that citizenship is passed down through the father in Iran, Sudan, and Syria, many dual nationals will be barred from visa-free travel under the VWP based solely on their heritage. For example, a British citizen who has lived in London her entire life will lose her visa-free privileges if her father is a Syrian citizen, even if she herself has never been to Syria,” the groups wrote. “Furthermore, because the VWP operates on the basis of reciprocity, the 2015 visa waiver travel restriction risks inviting the 38 VWP countries to erect similar bans on dual nationals of the United States.”

“This pernicious restriction is shameful, xenophobic, and completely contradictory to our fundamental American values of fairness and equality,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Congress has a moral and constitutional obligation to fight discrimination, and we urge lawmakers to rescind this provision by passing the Equal Protection in Travel Act immediately.”

Click here to read the House letter.

Click here to read the Senate letter.

The full letter to the House and a list of signers is below:

February 1, 2016

Re: Please Support H.R 4380, the “Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016.

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the 65 undersigned groups, we write to express our strong support for the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 (H.R. 4380), bipartisan legislation to address recent amendments to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that discriminate against certain dual nationals.

Just one month ago on December 18, 2015, Congress passed the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act which included changes to the VWP that, among other changes to the program, would revoke VWP travel privileges from citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. Drafted and passed on the heels of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the 2015 visa waiver law enshrines discrimination based on nationality, ancestry, and parentage. There is no compelling security argument that justifies the discrimination against certain dual nationals in violation of fundamental American values.

Citizens of VWP countries can now no longer travel to the U.S. visa-free if they are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria–solely due to their ancestry and not because of any decision or action on their part. They will now need to apply for visitor visas, pay a $160 fee, attend an interview at a U.S. consulate, and pass additional background checks. They will need to clear these extra hurdles if they are coming to the U.S. for any visitor purpose – whether to attend a family reunion, go on vacation, or attend business meetings and conferences. In fact, directly as a result of this new law, on January 19 a British-Iranian BBC journalist and her British citizen daughter, who were heading to New Jersey to attend the birthday party of a family member living in the United States, were stopped from boarding their flight at Heathrow Airport. Similarly, a European-Iranian photographer, whose work has been published in Time Magazine, The New York Times, and National Geographic, can no longer travel to the United States with just her European Union passport because of this new restriction.

Given that citizenship is passed down through the father in Iran, Sudan, and Syria, many dual nationals will be barred from visa-free travel under the VWP based solely on their heritage. For example, a British citizen who has lived in London her entire life will lose her visa-free privileges if her father is a Syrian citizen, even if she herself has never been to Syria. Singling out these dual nationals is rank discrimination and contradicts fundamental American values of fairness and equality. Indeed, according to one Iranian-American entrepreneur and investor, “the idea that some of us would lose this privilege because of our Middle Eastern or African heritage compromises the very essence of America: that ‘all men are created equal.’”

Furthermore, because the VWP operates on the basis of reciprocity, the 2015 visa waiver travel restrictions risk inviting the 38 VWP countries to erect similar bans on dual nationals of the United States. By swiftly repealing the discriminatory travel restrictions, Congress can diminish the likelihood that American citizens—including Iranian Americans like Dr. Firouz Naderi, Director for NASA’s Solar System Exploration Directorate, or orthopedic surgeon Kourosh Kolahi—will be impacted by these restrictions.

We are encouraged that a bipartisan group of lawmakers has swiftly introduced the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 to repeal the travel restrictions targeting dual nationals. We applaud Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI), John Conyers, Jr., Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) for sponsoring this legislation in the House.

Passage of the Equal Protection in Travel Act will ensure that dual nationals are not punished because of their nationality, ancestry, or parentage and that Americans are not similarly targeted for discrimination under the VWP. We strongly urge Congress to swiftly pass the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016.

Sincerely,

National Organizations

American Immigration Lawyers Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

American Civil Liberties Union

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC

Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation

Casa Esperanza

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee and Immigration Ministries

Demand Progress

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Human Rights First

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB)

Iranian American Bar Association

ISLAMIC CIRCLE OF NORTH AMERICA

Jewish Voice for Peace

Just Foreign Policy

Justice Strategies

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

MoveOn.org

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Forum

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

NIAC Action

Pars Equality Center

Physicians for Human Rights

Project South

Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)

Reporters Without Borders

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

The HAND Foundation

U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United for Iran

We Belong Together

YWCA USA

State/Local Organizations

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta

Asian Law Alliance

Austin Jewish Voice for Peace

Bay Area Iranian-American Democrats

Colectiva Legal del Pueblo

Conversations With Friends (MN)

Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law

Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center

Esmail Khoi Foundation

Friends of Broward Detainees

Georgia Peace & Justice Coalition

Georgia Rural Urban Summit

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

MAIZ

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

New York Immigration Coalition

North Carolina Justice Center

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Racial Justice Action Center

Reformed Church of Highland Park (NJ)

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)

Undocumented Student Alliance at KSU

Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights

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