Congress is currently discussing legislation that bans Iranians and certain foreign nationals from buying large amounts of agricultural property in the U.S. This comes following a series of state-level bills passed over the last few months. Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas all enacted laws which restrict Iranian nationals’ ability to buy property. Texas, Ohio, and Hawaii, among other states, are also considering similar legislation.
The federal amendment applies not only to Iran, but includes North Korea, China, and Russia. It passed 91-7 in the Senate this past July and has gone to conference. This means that the House and Senate will renegotiate the law before Congress considers re-approval.
Supporters of this law, called the Rounds Amendment, argue that it is necessary to protect national security interests. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis boasted his state passed an even more restrictive property law. He said that “Florida has once again taken the lead in protecting American interests from foreign threats and has provided a blueprint for other states to do the same.”
Concerns Over the Property Ban
But the amendment immediately raised concerns of civil rights advocacy groups. The American Civil Liberties Union said that the Rounds Amendment is problematic because it “equates individuals from a covered country with their government.”
This, according to Etan Mabourakh, Community and Advocacy Associate for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), is nothing new. “It’s, unfortunately, been a tried and true tactic to paint immigrants with a broad brush as the problem coming in,” said Mabourakh.
He explained that for Iranian nationals, who consider America their home, the U.S. government treating them as an “Other” can be hurtful. “All my Iranian family who lives here came here during the revolution, and they are so grateful to be here,” said Mabourakh. “They’re so proudly Iranian-American, emphasis on the American. And it’s kind of a slap in the face when you pass bills that target individuals. Or at least don’t take basic steps to protect individuals who have no connection to the government.”
While this law does not apply to U.S. citizens, Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s Executive Director, emphasizes that these laws could impact anyone who is Iranian, regardless of citizenship status: “I am worried about the precedent for inviting national heritage profiling, which essentially invites racial profiling. Where you start to have people using this law as a means to discriminate against people whether this law applies to them or not.”
Future Implications of the Law for Iranians
This is a part of a larger issue, according to Abdi, in which hot-button political issues impact ordinary people. “I don’t think anybody seriously thinks that Iran is coming in here and buying agricultural land or buying critical infrastructure. It’s just an easy scapegoat,” said Abdi. “And the civil rights of Americans can be collateral damage.”
For some Iranian Nationals and Iranian Americans, the past few months revived old anxieties about the 2016 “Muslim ban.” Under this ban, the U.S. Government banned Iranian nationals from entering the U.S.
Mabourakh explains that this law not only dredges up the past but proves Iranians’ uncertain futures in the U.S. “Our community also has scars from the Muslim ban,” said Mabourakh. “And there’s a likelihood that Trump, if elected again, will not only reinstate it, but expand on it.”
As Congress continues to debate the Rounds Amendment, Abdi admits that he believes the amendment will likely pass. The product of anxieties surrounding increased tensions with Iran and other non-Western countries, laws limiting the civil rights of foreigners continue to spring up on state and federal levels. For foreign nationals, these laws serve as all-too-real reminders that the U.S.’s history of discrimination is still alive in the present day.