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House Responds to Israeli-Iranian Missile Exchange by Taking Rights Away from Americans

Civil liberties groups are raising alarms about a bill making its way through Congress that applies pressure for a ban on travel to Iran for Americans using U.S. passports. The rights groups see the bill as part of a growing attempt to control the travel of American citizens and bar Iranian Americans in particular from maintaining connections with friends and loved ones inside Iran.

“If you’re an American citizen, the government should not be controlling where you can travel.”

“This bill is very concerning because it’s the beginning of a process of criminalizing something that is very normal for many people, which is traveling to Iran,” said Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council. “If you’re an American citizen, the government should not be controlling where you can travel.”

Along with a flurry of other sanctions bills targeting Iran, the bill calling for the travel restrictions passed the U.S. House last week. The bill is now slated to come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Introduced last fall, the No Paydays for Hostage-Takers Act languished until tensions between Iran and Israel escalated into a series of reciprocal attacks earlier this month.

Among other provisions, the bill seeks to bar U.S. passport holders from traveling to Iran by rendering their passports invalid for such travel. Though the prohibition would need to be enacted by the State Department, the legislative proposal effectively encourages the move and, as with other sanctions against Iran, waiving the authority to enact the ban could incur political costs.

If Donald Trump wins a second White House term, a distinct possibility according to polls, the invocation of the travel ban would be likely. In his first term, Trump imposed the so-called Muslim ban on travel to the U.S. for Iranians, among other nationalities, and has promised to reimpose it if elected again.

The idea of banning travel to Iran on American passports was raised last September by former Trump State Department official Elliott Abrams, a right-wing hawk with a controversial history that includes covering up a Central American massacre and involvement in the Iran–Contra scandal.

In practice, many Iranian Americans tend to travel to Iran on Iranian passports, but Americans of Iranian extraction who do not hold Islamic Republic travel documents would be unable to travel there under the ban. The measure is viewed as a potential signal of deeper isolation for the Iranian people and severing of people-to-people ties between Iran and the U.S.

Iran and North Korea

The bill, originally proposed last October by Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., was promoted as a measure to restrict the Iranian government’s ability to take U.S. citizens hostage as bargaining chips for bilateral negotiations. Some dual-nationals have been arrested in Iran in the past amid tensions between the two countries.

Yet hundreds of thousands of dual-nationals are believed to travel regularly to Iran from across the West. Measures barring their ability to do so would represent an unprecedented step, making it difficult or impossible for people with ties in both countries to visit family or maintain personal and professional connections.

Invalidating U.S. passports for travel to Iran would put it on par with North Korea, which had a similar ban put in place in 2017 — during Trump’s first term — when an American citizen died after 17 months of detention there.

Despite being heavily sanctioned over foreign policy and human rights issues, Iran still has relations with much of the international community and large number of Iranians live throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.

“North Korea and Iran are very different countries.”

“North Korea is really the model for this policy, as it is the only country where there is such a strict prohibition for travel on the books,” said Costello. “But North Korea and Iran are very different countries. The level of isolation of North Korea is far greater, and it doesn’t have the same diaspora that Iran does.”

This week, a delegation from North Korea traveled to Iran, with reported hopes of breaking North Korea’s total diplomatic isolation as conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine forge new geopolitics.

Costello said that NIAC is still hoping that the Senate will not approve the bill when it comes to its consideration. Still, the implications of it coming under consideration, alongside Trump’s promises to revive his “Muslim ban” policy, bode poorly for the future of U.S.–Iran relations.

“You are talking,” he said, “about a policy that could affect hundreds of thousands of people.”

The post House Responds to Israeli-Iranian Missile Exchange by Taking Rights Away from Americans appeared first on The Intercept.

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