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Opinion: A Visa Ban on Iran Will Negatively Affect the U.S.

Among the group of countries targeted in the president's executive order, Iranians make up the largest minority in the U.S.
Image: President Donald Trump signs Executive Orders in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Jan. 27.
President Donald Trump signs Executive Orders in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Jan. 27.Olivier Douliery / EPA

Now that Donald J. Trump has been president of the United States for a few days it is becoming clear, to the horror of his opponents but perhaps even to some of the people who voted for him, that a President Trump is setting to do exactly what the campaigner Trump said he would.

That may be shocking to those who have never held their political candidates to their words, but despite the overwhelming evidence that Mr. Trump is not the most truthful of men, his supporters undoubtedly believed his promises and undoubtedly are thrilled by the steady stream of presidential signing photos and announcements from the White House detailing (or not-quite-detailing) the fulfillment of campaign promises — one of which was to suspend immigration and non-immigrant visits by people from certain countries, Islamic all, that as the president puts it, wish to “do us harm.”

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Those countries include the usual suspects as far as most Americans are concerned — Iraq, from where ISIS evolved from al Qaeda and the setting for “The Hurt Locker”; Syria, which ISIS has been able to use as a location for their snuff films; Somalia, the location of “Black Hawk Down”; Yemen, where we hear al Qaeda is active; Libya, a failed state where our ambassador was killed; Sudan, where Christians broke off and created their own separate country; and finally Iran, whose proper name, “The Islamic Republic of”, suggests to Americans soon to become accustomed to hearing their president utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism” a base for that very phenomenon.

(The countries which are not included in a visa ban happen to be the countries whose citizens have actually committed terror acts against the U.S. and the West, which means despite comforting his fans by restricting visitors from scary countries, Mr. Trump’s proposal would not have prevented any terror act, including 9/11, San Bernardino, or Orlando, had it been enacted under previous presidents.)

For a number of reasons, apart from the cruelness of a ban on refugees from what are war-torn areas — especially cruel to those whose families have been separated and are awaiting reunification in the U.S. — the country the visa ban affects most is Iran, which in turn also negatively affects the U.S.

First, there are over a million Iranian Americans, and possibly another million Iranian permanent residents (“Green Card” holders) in America (the 1979 revolution created the first wave of immigrants). As more recent 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, most, if not almost all, of those Iranians still have family in Iran, and although obviously not all those family members regularly visit their American relatives, the fact that they can’t anymore means an entire class of Americans must travel if they wish to see relatives — and, of course, little boys and girls might not be able to see grandma and grandpa anymore.

Second, Iranians who have ventured to our shores, whether legally through an immigration procedure, or by finding a way to turn a visitor or student visa into a more permanent one, are among the most successful immigrants in the country. (That is not a boast; it simply means to America and Americans that Iranian immigrants have not, traditionally and in any great numbers, relied on welfare, local or state handouts, or even unemployment benefits, and their higher than average incomes has meant more taxes to government coffers.)

“'Make America Great Again' means you have to have immigration, for the 'again' means you believe America was once great, and America was — and still is — a nation entirely made up of immigrants."

Iranian universities are world class, especially in the sciences, and Iranians who pursue graduate degrees at our universities have in many cases stayed on to work in engineering and other sciences, professions that have in recent years had to rely on immigrants to fill jobs and keep America the leader in technical innovation.

“Make America Great Again” means you have to have immigration, for the “again” means you believe America was once great, and America was — and still is — a nation entirely made up of immigrants (apologies to Native Americans, on whose land we made America up, not even leaving them with the dignity of a native name for the new country).

Of course Iranians aren’t the only immigrants who have contributed to America — many, many others have — but Iranians are, among the group of seven countries targeted in the executive order, the largest minority in the U.S.

There is a more pressing issue, though, with Iran being on the list of countries whose citizens cannot travel to the U.S.: The JCPOA, or nuclear deal that Mr. Trump has in the past labeled a “horrible deal.” Under that “horrible deal,” Iran has slowed its nuclear program to a crawl, ensuring that it will not build a nuclear weapon or that if it attempts to, will be caught almost instantly, and in return, the U.S. and six other countries (and the UN Security Council) lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran and promised to do nothing further to impede non-U.S. business with Iran. Already, it was argued by Iranians that HR 158, which mandated that anyone traveling to Iran could no longer participate in the U.S. visa waiver program (open to most European citizens) and which President Obama signed after implementation of the nuclear deal, was in violation of that aspect of the deal, as it would clearly discourage European businessmen from doing business in Iran if they also wanted the freedom to easily travel to the U.S.

The new order goes further, of course, with an outright ban on Iranians, which would mean an Iranian businessman or woman could no longer travel to the U.S. if he or she managed to do business here (and there are legal business opportunities — you can, for example, now dine on Iranian caviar, nibble Persian pistachios, and even walk on a new Persian carpet).

It is likely that Iran will again protest that this executive order is in direct violation of the JCPOA. (It will also mean that unlike with the delivery of the first Airbus aircraft that Iran recently took in France, Iranian pilots would be unable to themselves take physical delivery of Boeing jets manufactured in America.)

One might be tempted to wonder if the fuss by Iranians (including the lead actress in an Oscar-nominated film who is boycotting this year’s ceremony in Hollywood, and who seem to be the loudest protesting) as well as civil rights groups in the U.S. is overblown. After all, the ban or suspension of visas is only temporary, initially lasting 90 days. But it is not: The proviso that the affected countries must furnish “appropriate information” on their citizens to the State Department and the Dept. of Homeland Security in that 90 days — in other words: “Please rat out which one of your citizens you think is a threat to us, doesn’t like us, and one we should not let into our country.”

I would venture to say that hell, if there is one, will freeze over and pigs will take to the air before any of the countries (with the possible exception of Iraq, whose citizens have suffered enough at our hands), and especially Iran, complies with that order. And for those who might think that banning Iranians might not be such a bad thing, let me remind you of one small example: That if you like eBay and have bought or sold something on that site, bear in mind that it was founded by an immigrant — an Iranian-American immigrant, whose family today could be denied entry to the U.S.

Hooman Majd is a writer based in New York, and contributor to NBC News. He has written for publications including the New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Financial Times, GQ, Time, Newsweek, among others, and is the author of New York Times bestseller "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ," "The Ayatollahs' Democracy," and "The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay."