Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"It is possible that second-class citizenship for my loved ones and me will be the very last thing that Congress votes on in 2015"

Roozbeh Shirazi, a professor at the University of Minnesota, writes in MinnPost today about the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015,” which will revoke the visa waivers currently granted to many American citizens.

As a U.S.-born citizen of Iranian ancestry, I am a target of this legislation, as are my family and many of our friends. This bill will have enormous consequences on my professional and personal life. Although I do not hold an Iranian passport and have never been to Iran, under Iranian law I would be considered to be an Iranian national, as citizenship in Iran is conferred through patrilineal descent. If an expansive reading of the visa waiver exemptions is applied, my ability to carry out my international scholarship as a professor at the University of Minnesota will be restricted. On a personal level, if these changes become law, it won’t matter that my parents, naturalized U.S. citizens who came to the United States from Iran four decades ago, would not be able to visit their EU passport-holding siblings in Europe without a visa. It won’t matter that my wife, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen living here since age 2, wouldn’t be able to travel back to France, where she lived and studied for years, without a visa.

Beyond these restrictions, this bill comes with an enormous emotional toll. Our sense of belonging as Americans, a topic that I have devoted much of my research toward, is at stake. Three generations of my family’s lives, memories and relationships are inextricably tied to this land. For many Iraqi- and Syrian-Americans, this history is much longer. We have buried our elders here, and have welcomed new additions to our families as well. These are among the rituals that make a place home. How are we expected to feel a connection to a country that formalizes a lower tier of citizenship for us? How are my wife and I supposed to raise our 2-year-old son to exercise his rights as a citizen of this country when those rights are marked with an asterisk?

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