Last week a friend sent me this ominous article about a bill that threatened to codify racist rhetoric into law.
I dismissed it, thinking, “we have checks and balances to prevent stuff like that.”
This week, I learned that the bill in question (HR-158) has Obama’s support, has cleared the House of Representatives with a whopping 407-19 majority, and is on track to be passed by the Senate within days.
While the bill attempts to help make Americans safe from terrorism, it’s not only unlikely to do so, but risks implementing a discriminatory regime that could be used against American citizens.
Here’s how this bill affects you and me: first, HR-158 discriminates among citizens of Europe and other countries, restricting their travel to the USA based on their national heritage (namely, requiring visas for people of Iranian, Sudanese, Syrian, or Iraqi descent, and anybody who has visited those countries in 5 years*). Second, these discriminatory restrictions will likely apply to U.S. citizens too, once Europe and the other countries reciprocate as they’ve vowed to do (and they have laws in place to expedite this).
Already Europe has unanimously protested the bill, threatening “legally mandated reciprocal measures” and saying it does “nothing to increase security while instead hurting economies on both sides of the Atlantic.” Even some representatives who voted for this bill have already backtracked on their support.
Today, U.S. citizens can travel throughout Europe and other countries with only a passport. 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.” Yet this is the expected outcome of what Congress and the White House are enacting this week.
Every person of color and every minority group should be alarmed by this: the wave of discriminatory rhetoric in the past few months has touched us all. It’s time to realize that the people spreading racist rhetoric are in the minority; the rest of us who believe in equality and tolerance are the majority. United we stand; divided we fall.
Meet the “second-class” Americans who could become subject to travel restrictions because of their Iranian heritage: tennis legend Andre Agassi; Twitter Chairman Omid Kordestani; EBay founder Pierre Omidyar; Oracle & Yahoo VP engineering Zod Nazem; Cisco exec Mohsen Moazami; Uber director Shervin Pishevar; Dropbox cofounder Arash Ferdowsi; Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi; and Code.org co-founders Hadi Partovi & me.
Also restricted: their American-born wives and children, automatically classified as dual-nationals per the legal rules of Iranian nationality. One more thing: also restricted would be the late Steve Jobs and his kids, automatically classified as dual-nationals per the legal rules of Syrian nationality.
To implement this policy might require registering people of Middle Eastern or African descent in a global database shared with other countries. It would certainly create longer lines at the airport, as every single traveler, regardless of their heritage, would need to prove they haven’t visited the designated countries in the past five years.
Ironically, the one group who wouldn’t be stopped or inconvenienced by this bill would be the terrorists: not one of the 9/11 hijackers or San Bernardino killers came from Iran, Syria, Iraq, or Sudan. They came from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which HR-158 doesn’t touch.
Of the nationalities restricted in HR-158, Iran is particularly notable because Iranian-Americans occupy the top ranks of Silicon Valley (in part because of Iran’s superb technical education), as well as leading positions across business, law, medicine, and academia. Including Iran in the bill is also uniquely problematic because doing so breaks America’s promises under the JCPOA (aka Iran Nuclear deal).
Under that deal, Iran agreed to severely restrict its nuclear program while the USA and other countries agreed to lift sanctions and not impose any new sanctions. A new US law that punishes people for traveling to Iran would count as a new sanction, and might give Iran legal grounds to break the deal.
While we may have doubts about the Iran Nuclear Deal or Iran’s ability to stick with the terms, surely the worst scenario is to have it unwind because America broke its word and threw the first stone. If that were to happen, it could lead to unpredictable escalation, as Russia and China would likely align with Iran; even our would-be European allies would see America as the instigator.
It’s puzzling that the White House supported HR-158. It’s likely that they, as well as many in Congress, didn’t think through the unintended consequences, since it’s being rushed through and the repercussions aren’t immediately apparent on the surface.
Like most busy people, I mistakenly assumed that our elected representatives were protecting us from things like this. If you trust your elected officials not to enact discriminatory legislation, think again. Consider Rep. Zoe Logfren of San Jose, CA, who represents Silicon Valley. This Democrat not only helped draft the bill; she stood by as discriminatory language was added, and she voted in favor of it on the very same day that she was tweeting to condemn Donald Trump for betraying America’s values.
The Silicon Valley that I know won’t stand for this. In the past week, we’ve seen Mark Zuckerberg post a stirring message of support for Muslims. We’ve seen Google CEO Sundar Pichai post an essay advocating tolerance, saying “we must speak out” and “support Muslim and other minority communities in the U.S. and around the world.” Yet even as these captains of industry were speaking out against discrimination, their elected representative, Anna Eshoo (Democrat from Palo Alto) was voting for a bill that discriminates against minority communities.
In the last 48 hours, leaders across Silicon Valley have woken up against HR-158. My twin brother Hadi, prominent founder and entrepreneur, openly protested the bill on Sunday. His essay, “The slippery slope of discrimination,” was immediately ‘liked’ by Mark Zuckerberg, and has subsequently gone viral, being shared by more than 1,500 other people, including Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi. Twitter chairman Omid Kordestani has tweeted about it more than once.
I took one step further and called some Congressmen personally. What they told me was, “we need to hear from more people outside the Iranian-American community.” That’s why I’m writing this essay.
By now, you’re probably thinking, “that’s messed up.” If so, you’re one click away from helping fix this. You can petition the White House.
Better yet, you probably know some of the people whom these Congressmen listen to: in just four clicks, you can scan Zoe Lofgren’s top donors, Anna Eshoo’s top donors , Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s top donors, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s top donors.
Find somebody you know, and get them to read this. For example, I contacted my longtime friend, John Fisher of DFJ, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, and other significant political donors. They and others have answered the call and are rising to the task.
As of yesterday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had heard the concerns about this bill and refused to budge. It’s time to wake up and realize that America may be entering a dark new chapter, a new McCarthy Era. Our liberties are being eroded this week.
We all care for the security of the United States, and we all fear terrorism. If we allow this fear to make us forsake our ideals, the enemy has already won.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. -Edmund Burke
(*) While the law mentions only Iraq and Syria by name, it also refers to countries on the State Dept’s list of “sponsors of terror,” which adds Iran and Sudan.
Also, while the bill doesn’t refer to national heritage or descent, it restricts dual citizens (“nationals”) of these countries. This has unintended consequences, because the nationality laws of countries like Iran are passed down automatically from father to son, regardless of when and where they are born.