Irony alert: House passes bill forcing Europeans who visit Iran, Iraq and Syria to get a visa
There are 38 countries with which the United States has a visa waiver program that allows those countries' citizens to enter the United States without obtaining a visa. Those countries are overwhelmingly European. The US House this week overwhelmingly (407-19 with only Democrats voting against) passed HR 158, a bill that would require Europeans who have visited Iraq and Syria (ISIS hotspots) to obtain a visa before entering the United States. At the last minute, Iran and Sudan (terror sponsoring states) were added to the list of countries that will cause non-Americans to need a visa to enter the US. The Iran lobby in the US is furious.
"Once again they punish Iranians for crimes committed by terrorists virtually every one of us despise, oppose and are fighting," Ali Abdi, a prominent Iranian-American human rights activist told BBC Persian.
"In fact we shouldn't punish anyone based on their place of origin."
Narges Bajoghli, a filmmaker in New York, took to Facebook to encourage her friends to contact their representative in Congress in opposition to what she called "singling out a group of people based on their ethnic background".
Twitter accounts and other Facebook pages dedicated to organising to protest against the bill have also been created, including @StopHR158, which references the official number of the bill.
The National Iranian American Council in Washington is lobbying to stop this bill from passing in the United States Senate.
"These provisions impacting Iranian Americans were added in backroom negotiations at the last minute without hearings or accountability," the group said in a statement.
And the ACLU, one of the leading civil rights organisations in the country, cautioned Congress "to avoid passing legislation that would broadly scapegoat groups based on nationality, and would fan the flames of discriminatory exclusion, both here and abroad".
On social media many Iranian Americans expressed shock that such limitations would be imposed on people who travel to Iran but not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.Is this any different from Donald Trump's proposal earlier this week? Not by much.
Others called it a continuation of presidential candidate Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric. 'It's so "Trumpesque"' tweeted Shayan, a German of Iranian background who said he was worried that his trip to US may be affected.The Europeans are also said to be 'alarmed.' Apparently Congress was even more 'alarmed' after the Paris massacre was carried out mostly by European citizens who were born in, or children of people who were born in, Muslim countries.
But the truth is that this is probably the largest hole in US security north of the Mexican border. It allows citizens of other countries to enter without screening. That will change if the Senate passes the bill and both houses override what has to be an almost inevitable Obama veto.
Meanwhile, here in Israel, we don't need to worry about visa waivers. We aren't part of the visa waiver program, because our government has denied entry to trouble making Americans for years. And God willing it will stay that way.