Washington, D.C. July 16, 2004 - The Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) recently had the chance to sit down with Congressman Martin Meehan (D-MA-5th) and discuss important domestic policy issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, and visa regulations affecting the Iranian American community. Over his more than ten years in Congress, Marty Meehan has emerged as a national leader on a variety of issues and a steadfast advocate for the people of his district. He has led the fight to reform our nation's campaign finance laws and has been a tireless advocate for economic development across the Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts.
A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Meehan is a leading supporter of civil liberties and civil rights. He feels the upswing in racial and ethnic profiling, particularly the disproportionate profiling of Iranian Americans, since 9/11, has come at the cost of establishing a more accurate and effective counterterrorism policy. His position on the House Judiciary Committee - which oversees both the enforcement of antiterrorism statutes and immigration law -allows him to express these deeply held beliefs and influence national policy.
Meehan continues to call for a reevaluation of the Patriot Act. He believes that policies which seek to determine someone's potential guilt or innocence based solely on the color of their skin or their nation-of-origin are an unreliable shortcut to true security. Furthermore, Meehan is acutely aware of the burdens created by new restrictions on and requirements for visas applicants - especially for Middle Easterners and South Asians. He rejects the notion we can improve national security by singling out travelers solely based on their nationality and hopes that the U.S. can develop more specific, non-nationality-based criteria for screening travelers in the future.
Meehan also believes that the 8(a): Business Development Program is an invaluable tool for assisting socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Groups already presumed to be disadvantaged include African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Native Americans, and Subcontinent Asian Americans. He strongly supports the expansion of the 8 (a): program to also recognize Iranian Americas as disadvantaged.
For more information on Congressman Meehan, including his views on economic policy, health-care, education, and the environment, visit: http://www.house.gov/meehan or contact his campaign office at (978) 275-4242.
MEEHAN: The top issue is how to grow the economy and create good jobs. 160,000 people are unemployed in Massachusetts - that has to be our first priority. Aside from jobs, the two biggest challenges are health care and education. 600,000 people are uninsured in Massachusetts, and we still haven't helped seniors with the cost of prescription drugs. Education is the most fundamental challenge because it is the key to our economic future.
IAPAC: What do you expect from IAPAC?
MEEHAN: I hope to build a stronger relationship with IAPAC so I can better understand the concerns of the Iranian American community. The Iranian American community has an important voice and perspective on issues such as civil liberties and immigration - issues that affect not only immigrant and minority communities but every American. In Congress, I have worked hard to safeguard civil liberties and protect equal rights of all Americans. I hope IAPAC can help me become even more effective in this respect while expanding and strengthening my relationships with the Iranian American community.
IAPAC: How much contact have you had with Iranian Americans?
MEEHAN: I've been fortunate to have strong relationships with Iranian Americans in many walks of life. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have worked with many Iranian American business leaders in Massachusetts in the high tech and defense industries, often helping them build working relationships with the federal government. In large part because of these strong contacts, I have come to know family members and friends in the broader Iranian American community quite well. I have helped members of the community secure U.S. citizenship, resolved some problems with the immigration system, and worked to address concerns about civil liberties.
IAPAC: How familiar are you with the current situation--demographic, economic, and social--of the Iranian American community?
MEEHAN: Like all ethnic communities in the US, the Iranian American community is a diverse one - ranging in from Democrat to Republican, Liberal to Conservative, and of all socio-economic strata. Still, Iranian Americans have expressed to me that they are united in their concerns about several issues: restrictions on civil liberties as a result of the war on terror, ethnic profiling, and immigration reform.
I believe that the upswing in arbitrary racial and ethnic profiling, particularly the disproportionate profiling of Iranian Americans since 9/11, has not made us safer. I have used my position on the House Judiciary Committee - which oversees both the enforcement of antiterrorism statutes and immigration law - to defend civil liberties and work toward a more effective and just counterterrorism policy.
IAPAC: Do you believe the U.S. government has the right to impose restrictions on the civil liberties of American citizens? If so, under what circumstances? Does the current "war on terrorism" justify restrictions on civil liberties? If so, what type of restrictions would you consider acceptable?
MEEHAN: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor may have said it best in her opinion striking down the Administration's policy toward detainees: "A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
Even in times of fear, we cannot allow our counterterrorism policy undermine basic civil liberties. And under no circumstances should we single out an ethnic or immigrant group for undue and unreasonable restrictions on their civil rights.
I actively oppose the dramatic expansion of the Patriot Act, and have called for its total reevaluation. Last December I wrote the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to call for greater oversight of Justice Department operations, an immediate and full accounting of the Administration's use of the Patriot Act, a greater investigation into the unjust apprehension of thousands of "September 11th detainees," and the dramatic transformation in the enforcement of immigration law
I am also a cosponsor of the Security and Freedom Ensured or SAFE Act (H.R. 3352), which would restrict FBI search authority, limit the use of "sneak and peak" searches, and narrow the overly expansive definition of domestic terrorism established in the original Patriot Act.
IAPAC: Do you believe the practice of "profiling"-targeting individuals for special investigation because of their race, ethnicity, or religion--is ever acceptable? If so, when?
MEEHAN: Casting blanket suspicions on entire ethnic groups is an unreliable shortcut to real security. If our law enforcement agencies are more vigilant and share information better, we can isolate the individuals who pose genuine security risks. I hope, for example, that the U.S. can develop more specific criteria for screening travelers in the future that are not based solely on nationality. I also understand that many members of the Iranian American community have been targeted in other ways due to the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment-often by law enforcement officials.
I am a cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act (H.R. 3847), which would prohibit any law enforcement agency from engaging in racial profiling and require federal agencies to craft policies to eliminate the practice.
IAPAC: Are you familiar with Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002? Do you support Section 306 of the law?
MEEHAN: While Section 306 seeks to deter potential terrorists from entering the United States, I am very concerned that it inadvertently imposes serious burdens on Americans and family members who live abroad by making it difficult for relatives to visit the United States or receive emergency medical care. We need a reasonable, rational visa policy that will allow non-immigrants that seek to visit, study, or work in the United States temporarily to do so while also preventing suspected terrorists from entering the country. I do not believe that Section 306 achieves that important balance.
IAPAC: Do you support wholesale bans on the issuance of visas to non-immigrants from countries, including Iran, which have been designated by the State Department as supporting terrorism?
MEEHAN: There are several reasons why such a policy would likely be ineffective. First, immigrants do not necessarily share the views or ideologies of the governments of their home countries - Iran is certainly a case in point. Conversely, banning immigrants from countries on the State Department list is no guarantee that terrorists will not enter the US - after all, none of the 9/11 hijackers came from countries considered state sponsors of terrorism.
Many Iranian Americans and other immigrant communities have friends and families who live in these countries and wish to visit their loved ones- for business, pleasure, or medical care. We must craft our visa policies to achieve a balance between protecting our national security and strengthening America's long tradition of welcoming immigrants from all over the world, including countries with repressive governments.
IAPAC: Do you support procedures to determine whether applicants for non-immigrant visas, regardless of national origin, pose a security threat to the security of the United States?
MEEHAN: I think we should move away from our "nation of origin"-focused screening process, which may be discriminatory and counterproductive. The knee-jerk reaction to throw up new travel restrictions from predominately Muslim states distracted us from creating more comprehensive and smarter security systems that can screen individuals.
IAPAC: Do you support the expedition of security clearance procedures to enable non-immigrants to enter the United States in cases of family or medical emergencies?
MEEHAN: Yes. I know how difficult it is for many of our immigrants to live thousands of miles away from their families. It's really a tragedy that our system is often so inflexible that family members can't get special access when someone has fallen ill or died.
... Payvand News - 7/19/04 ... --