By Farid Zareie, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington DC -Widespread rumors that the Florida "Travel to Terrorist States Act" actually prohibits trips to Iran have caused some Iranian Americans to cancel their travel plans. Though the law is not yet being implemented, travel agents have begun to impose its restrictions on themselves preemptively, and in some cases, mistakenly.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 23 imposes stringent restrictions on travel agencies that sell trips to countries listed by the US State Department as sponsors of terrorism. Its provisions are aimed at five countries; namely Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea, and Sudan. This means that travel agencies wishing to sell flights to these countries are required to pay a minimum $1,000 registration fee and obtain a security bond of at least $100,000. This will in turn raise the price of travel to these countries for the average consumer.
Unfortunately, nearly everyone affected by the law is confused about its true implications. Many believe that it is only related to direct flights to Cuba. For example a recent CNN news report on the law made no mention of any other countries being affected. "We're the only ones they impose laws on" said a Cuban man in the report.
Since it was signed into law, some travel agents have been unwilling to sell Floridians travel to Iran, preferring to avoid the issue entirely. Some have even cancelled booked flights, thinking that travel to Iran has become illegal. This shows a lack of awareness on the part of travel agencies about the real consequences of the law, despite the fact that the law is not yet in effect.
On June 30th, sixteen Cuban travel agencies filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida to block implementation of the restrictions, claiming the law unconstitutionally restricts federally-permissible travel. They were granted an initial restraining order barring enforcement of the law until August 29. On Monday, July 7th however, the restraining order was extended to September 25, leaving the State Supreme Court to decide on the lawsuit by that date.
David Cooper, Staff Director for Commerce in the Florida Governor's office, told NIAC the law was originally intended to apply only to Cubans traveling to Havana. Within the Florida legislature, the law was tailored to apply to all countries on the US State Department list of sponsors of terrorism, thereby affecting Iranian Americans and others as well.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) opposes the law as an unfair restraint on citizens' freedom to travel. "I will be surprised if it doesn't get overturned." Assistant General Counsel Daniel Zim of ASTA told NIAC. "It is in direct conflict with federal law."
To be clear, only residents of Florida will be affected by this law once it is enforced. Therefore, travel agencies outside of Florida have no cause for alarm, so long as Florida remains the only state with such a regulation.
If the legal challenges fail and the law is upheld, one other significant consequence is possible: politicians, in the hope of appearing tough on national security issues, could likely begin to advocate similar provisions in other states.
... Payvand News - 07/22/08 ... --