Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017
By Nabi Sonboli
On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists”. The order reflects three critical concerns regarding immigrants and those who come to the US in the new administration: Security, ideology, and contribution. These concerns are valid for any country, but the questions remain, which one of these concerns are legitimate with regards to Iran and Iranians? and what is the main target in this order?
From a security point of view, the main objective of this executive order is “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks”. It refers to the September 11th terrorist attacks and says: “The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.” As a result, the US concerns raised by the September 11th events are understandable, but such concerns have nothing to do with Iran and Iranians.
According to Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, “Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.” In Richard A. Epstein‘s view, (Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow), “it is ironic that most of the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were Saudis …, while other terrorist actions were committed by persons from Chechnya or Pakistan, … Iran has been categorized among ‘countries of concern.'” This is while Iranians have not been involved in any terrorist activity killing US citizens.
The executive order puts Iran and six other nations under Section 3, “Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern”. Over the years, many who have been familiar with Iranians in different countries have certified that this population has been one of the most contributive and least problematic of diasporas in their new communities.
The second important concern is about extremist ideologies. The executive order says, “In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.”
Let’s take a look at the Foreign Fighters report published by the Soufan Group in New York. It clearly demonstrates where the ideological and practical threats come from. According to the report 8000 of these extremists are from Maghreb, 6000 from Tunisia, 2500 from Saudi Arabia, 2100 from Turkey and 2000 from Jordan; these are radicals who have joined foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria—mostly ISIS and affiliated groups. Furthermore, 5000 people from western countries and 4700 from former Soviet Republics has joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. The question is why so many people from “moderate and democratic countries” join a terrorist organization and how? More so, none of these countries are listed as part of the new administration’s executive order. As a result, Washington cannot deter security and ideological threats by neglecting facts and figures and targeting the wrong nations. Those who were welcoming and thanking Saudi Arabia’s contributions to democratic transitions in the Middle East in 2011 are now criticizing them publicly (Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) new report) for Saudi’s support of extremism in Germany.
Contributions to American national interest are another important issue for the new administration. The Executive Order asks for creating “a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest”. Such policy leads to a strong brain drain and is contrary to the national interests of sending countries. However, it is up to people to decide for themselves. The question is, how much have Iranian emigrants contributed to the US economy and society?
According to research done by the Iranian Studies Group, Iranians are “among the most highly educated people in the county”. In addition, researchers identified “more than 50 Iranian-Americans in senior leadership positions at companies with more than $200 million in asset value, including General Electric, AT&T, Verizon, Intel, Cisco, Motorola, Oracle, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies, and eBay.”
The report adds: “more than 500 Iranian-American professors teaching and doing research at top-ranked U.S. universities, including MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, the University of California system, Stanford, the University of Southern California, Georgia Tech, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of Maryland, California Institute of Technology, Boston University, George Washington University, and hundreds of other universities and colleges throughout the United States.” Those who have contributed to the American Economy and society and saved American lives in US hospitals, are not allowed to visit their families and countries of origin.
Based on the above mentioned facts and figures, none of the concerns mentioned in the executive order are valid about Iran and its people. The Trump Administration’s executive order is based on misperceptions and false information, and completely goes against US interests. If Iran had not fought against ISIS—from Baghdad to Beirut— the region could have been under broad terrorist control. The executive order does not address any US concerns, prevents international cooperation on terrorism, and antagonizes millions of people who are proud of their culture, history and achievements.
Generalization of security threats and targeting any nation and religion help extremists to mobilize more people. The US system and society should be concerned about those who intentionally try to mislead them about other religions, countries, and
Nabi Sonboli is an Iranian Research Fellow affiliated with the Instituted for Political and International Studies (IPIS) in Tehran. He has worked for the Institute since 1995 with a focus on Iranian foreign policy, Iran-EU relations, Iran-US relations and Middle East developments. He has published in Iranian Foreign Policy Quarterly (Farsi), Central Asia Quarterly (Farsi), Iranian Journal of International Relations, Iran Review, and AL Monitor. JPR Status: Opinion.