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Muslim Ban 3.0: First Major Lawsuit Brought On Behalf Of Iranian Americans

A major lawsuit was filed against the third version of the Muslim ban issued by President Donald Trump on September 24. In particular, the lawsuit calls attention to the disproportionate impact the ban will likely have on Iranian Americans.

Muslim Advocates, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Brennan Center for Justice filed a complaint [PDF] on behalf of a university student group, Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), and several anonymous Iranian Americans, who fear calling public attention to their current situation.

For example, “Doe Plaintiff #1” is an Iranian American, who fled religious persecution. She lived in Bethesda, Maryland and met her husband there in 2015. Her husband did not have permission to reside in the United States so she temporarily moved to the United Arab Emirates while waiting for her husband’s visa application to be processed. She filled out a form known as an I-130 that allows citizens to vouch for relatives seeking to immigrate.

The couple fears the ban means they will never be able to build a life together in the U.S. Also, their residency status in the UAE is uncertain. They have to re-apply for temporary residency every three years. If forced to return to Iran, they believe they would face persecution.

Another plaintiff, “Doe #2,” also resides in Maryland. She is a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin. She applied in February 2017 for a K-visa for her Iranian fiancé. He completed an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara in August. He does not know if his visa was granted yet, and they are afraid they will be “forced to choose between the only home she has ever known” and love if the visa is not granted by October 18, when the third ban goes into effect.

As the complaint notes, the third version of the ban targets nationals from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, which were targeted by the second version of the ban. It adds the Muslim-majority country of Chad.

It further targets North Korean nationals, even though only about 100 visas were issued to North Koreans in 2016. Venezuela is targeted as well, even though the Trump administration only plans to prohibit Venezuelan government officials and their families.

“Despite President Trump’s attempts to cloak this latest iteration of his Muslim ban in religiously neutral garb by invoking a national security review and including North Korea and Venezuela, the purpose and effect of the proclamation remain unchanged: to keep Muslims from entering the United States,” the complaint argues.

Like previous lawsuits, it asserts that the third version of the ban violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is supposed to prohibit discrimination when immigrant visas are issued. It also asserts that Trump’s latest ban violates the Constitution by encouraging discrimination against a particular religion.

“The individual plaintiffs are cut off from their family members, unable to have their relatives visit under tourist visas or join them as immigrants to the United States,” the complaint contends. It violates due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fifth Amendment. It harms the First Amendment rights that IIAB has to “engage in the free flow of ideas.”

“Over the past year, our members have been subject to discrimination in their schools and subways,” declared Mana Kharraz, executive director of IAAB. “We have been separated from our loved ones and had to endure this administration’s continued campaign to divide our families. Our youth are witness to a rise in hatred that puts our country in jeopardy of ushering in a dark chapter of bigotry becoming U.S. policy.”

“We have a right to exist and be protected in the U.S. without becoming pawns in an agenda that has little to do with safety and security,” Kharraz added.

Shayan Modarres, the legal counsel for NIAC, called attention to how Trump’s efforts to ban Muslims has fueled hate crimes against Iranian Americans and other Middle Eastern and North African communities.

“Since September 24, the National Iranian American Council was inundated with calls and emails from Iranians across the globe sharing stories with us—children being separated from parents, fiancés and spouses being separated from their loved ones, families being ripped apart and being thrown back into legal uncertainty,” Modarres said.

“What has remained constant throughout the last eight months, aside from the glaring congressional inaction and passivity in the face of an assault on bedrock American values and principles, is the racial and religious animus that motivates President Trump to persist with new attempts at banning Muslims.”

“In many respects,” Modarres argued, this version of the ban is “the most cruel and absurd of three Muslim bans and is the most detrimental” to Iranian Americans. North Korea and Venezuela are cover for discrimination. “An estimated 52 percent of individuals affected by the third Muslim ban will likely be Iranian.”

This is despite the fact that since 1975 not a single Iranian was responsible or implicated in any act of terrorism.

Modarres concluded, “Iranian Americans and other targeted communities have been forced to become experts in immigration law and re-familiarize themselves with new immigration laws and policies that seem to change every few months. They don’t do it because they love studying the law in their spare time. They do it because they have to and because being reunited with their families depends on their knowledge of how to navigate the new laws.”

Furthermore, the Brennan Center for Justice is a plaintiff in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the State Department, which has refused to release records on how it decided what countries to target with “Muslim Ban 3.0.”

It released a report on October 2 on the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” and travel ban efforts. The report focuses on the use of Muslim stereotypes to develop security policy.

“Particularly troubling is the requirement that visa applicants provide consular officers with extensive information about their online presence, such as their social media handles. There are serious questions about the effectiveness of this tool. Anyone seeking to avoid scrutiny could easily erase their social media footprint,” the report points out.

“And interactions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are notoriously open to misinterpretation—especially since they may be truncated, conducted via symbols, and are context, culture, and language specific. These types of checks do, however, undermine fundamental freedoms of speech and faith, both of foreigners and their American friends, families, and business contacts.”

“The collection of social media profiles also facilitates ideological profiling, a practice that has been rejected by Congress as contrary to American ideals and dismissed by experts as ineffective.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."