Changes to Visa Waiver Program Are Discriminatory, Plain and Simple

I’m an international student at Florida State University. That means I had to get a student visa before I got here to be able to study in the United States.

After I graduate, if I wanted to return to the US for less than ninety days, I didn’t expect to need any type of visa. My Swedish passport should enable me to come and go because Sweden, and most of Europe, is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which is seen as a huge benefit to all involved. It increases tourism, international business and makes traveling in the 38 countries that participate in the program convenient.

But on Friday, Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep government services funded through September 2016, and Obama signed it. Hidden away in the omnibus legislation is the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. It sounds good, but civil liberties and minority groups have condemned it. Its supposed aim is to reform the Visa Waiver Program to “keep America safe”. A line we heard several times in the recent GOP debate.

After the tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Republicans inserted discriminatory language in the bill, targeting dual nationals of Iraq, Syria and state sponsors of terror; Iran and Sudan. It requires dual citizens of these countries, and people who have travelled to those countries in the last 5 years, to get a visa before they can travel to the US.

Under Iranian law, a child born toan Iranian father is automatically a citizen. The same goes for Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese law. That means that I, a Swedish Iranian dual national, who was born in Sweden and grew up in the United Kingdom, will have to get a visa to visit the US after I graduate. Truthfully, this would make me reluctant to visit, knowing that I have to get a visa when the vast majority of my fellow Europeans don’t. It makes me feel unwelcome in a place I’ve called home for the past 3 years.

In an open letter published by the European Union’s Ambassador to the United States, and all European Union member Ambassadors, it was stated that passage of the bill “could trigger legally mandated reciprocal measures.” This means your fellow Americans could have their ability to travel visa-free seriously damaged because of their ancestry or dual citizenship. These reciprocal measures could also impact aid workers, journalists and researchers who’ve travelled to these countries in the last 5 years, as it already does.

Here’s a list of people it could affect here in the land of the free; Omid Kordestani, the Executive Chairman of Twitter, an Iranian-American. Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, whose travelled to both Syria and Iran. Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar, an Iranian American. Steve Jobs, co-founder and chairman of Apple, could have been affected by this bill because his father was Syrian. Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American and the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station. Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American, founder of Women for Women International. Anthony Bourdain, chef, author and television personality who travelled to Iran to film a documentary in 2014.

How will this even be implemented? The US government and other countries in the program would have to work together to identify individuals of Middle Eastern and African descent. Without a doubt, that’s racial profiling. 33 House members, thirteen of who voted for the bill, even wrote a letter to Senate members to express their concerns over these provisions.

Let me be clear; these changes are discriminatory, plain and simple. It’s completely hypocritical of Obama to denounce Donald Trump’s horrific Muslim ban policy, but then to support this legislation. Without a doubt, this would be punishing people for their backgrounds, instead of preventing terrorism.

Trump’s hateful rhetoric is leading America into a downward spiral of hate and bigotry. He’s making xenophobia acceptable, and this legislation is a direct result of his outrageous proposals. You may not care about how this will affect me. But listen to your fellow Americans. They are pleading with you.

Originally published at sainabehnejad.wordpress.com on December 23, 2015.

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