By Farid Zareie and Patrick Disney, NIAC
Washington, DC -- A law has been passed by the Florida legislature making it significantly more difficult for Iranian Americans to travel to Iran to visit family and friends. On June 23rd the Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, signed into law SB 1310, which imposes heavy restrictions on Florida travel agencies that arrange trips to any "state sponsors of terrorism." Among these restrictions, travel agents must pay a $1000 registration fee and secure at least a $100,000 security bond to provide services to anyone seeking to visit countries recognized by the State Department as a supporter of terrorism, including Iran.
How does this affect the Iranian American community in Florida, the sixth largest population in the US? This law will make it much more expensive for Iranian Americans and anybody else in Florida to travel to Iran. Higher costs for travel agencies will be passed on to consumers, compounding the effects of record oil prices and making it much more expensive for Americans to travel. In addition, it is likely this strict regulation will discourage agencies from offering services to Iran, making it harder for people to visit relatives in their country of origin.
The law, proposed by Sen. Carey Baker. of Lake County, first passed the Committee on Criminal Justice by a six to one vote, then on April 30 the bill passed the full Senate 26-2. The Florida House passed it 109-6 the same day. Sen. Paula Dockery, who was the only vote against this bill in the Criminal Justice Committee, criticized the law, saying "This is a vindictive act against travel agents that hurts people who need assistance."
Currently, a group of concerned travel agencies in Florida are suing to obtain an injunction blocking enforcement of the law, which also restricts travel to Cuba. Attorney Ira Kurzban filed a law suit on June 30 on behalf of 16 Cuban-American travel agencies, recommending the law be struck down as an unconstitutional restriction on federally permissible travel. A Florida judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking the law's implementation until August 29th.
The American Society for Travel Agents (ASTA) has opposed this law, calling it an unfair restraint on citizens' freedom to travel. According to ASTA, the law violates a total of four provisions of the U.S. Constitution and is in direct conflict with federal law.
The Florida law contradicts the expressed interest of the Bush Administration's to increase people-to-people contacts between the US and Iran. Last month, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said "The United States has been, for some time, trying to reach out to the Iranian people in various ways...We want more Iranians visiting the United States."
NIAC continues to investigate this issue to identify avenues in which the Iranian-American community's interest can be represented.
... Payvand News - 07/09/08 ... --