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How One Bigoted Law Could Change Life For Iranian-Americans

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    Photographed by Mahya Rastegar

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    There are few countries quite as misunderstood by Americans as Iran. After almost 40 years of tense relations, the situation between the U.S. and Iran seems to finally be improving, thanks to a new nuclear deal, and the end of strict sanctions. But a recent change to U.S. policy could end up punishing intelligent, ambitious young people, who have the knowledge and passion to help connect two cultures — people like Sogand.

    Sogand (who asked we not use her last name) has lived in Iran for three years. She grew up in Connecticut, and majored in Middle Eastern studies at college. After graduation, Sogand moved to Tehran, Iran, to learn about Iranian history. But now she could face a new hurdle in traveling to visit family or friends. Citizens of 38 countries used to be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa, but thanks to a new law, they have to apply for one just because they also have Iranian citizenship. This could lead to other countries changing their laws in retaliation, which would make travel more expensive and difficult for dual citizens like Sogand — and more isolation at home.

    The thought of having to go through a new bureaucratic process to fly to the country where she was born is heartbreaking. “As an American of Iranian heritage, the idea of me being made into a second-tier citizen is very disheartening," she said. "Especially when you add it to the rampant Islamophobia in the United States. This is just the cherry on top of this really disheartening culture of othering.”

    Other young dual nationals protested the proposal, but that didn’t stop Congress from passing it, or President Barack Obama from signing the bill, in which it was included. The bill could have dire consequences for Iran’s tourism industry, families, and students — all because political leaders in America have incorrectly connected Iranian people to international terrorism.

    Their worries aren’t unfounded – days ago, a journalist with the BBC was stopped from flying to the U.S. because she has dual citizenship in the United Kingdom and Iran. Rana Rahimpour and her family were prevented from boarding a flight to New Jersey to visit family, all because she didn't have a visa that was not required, only a few weeks earlier.

    The new requirements won't keep Sogand from her studies for a master's degree in Tehran, and she said it won't stop her from trying to encourage other young Iranian-Americans from making their voices heard. "I think it’s very important to continue empowering Iranian-American youth," Sogand said, "and giving them the skillset to be youth leaders and to mobilize regarding issues, very discriminatory, unjust, unfair, unclear, destructive issues like these laws."

    These photos offer a glimpse into the life of one young Iranian-American woman.

    Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that the visa waiver program would change requirements for Iranian-Americans. Activists are worried about countries affected by the new rules will institute visa requirements for Iranian-Americans.

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