IAPAC and the IABA Host Iranian American Know Your Rights Town Hall Meeting with Special Guest Congressman Meehan
Washington, DC – The Iranian American Know Your Rights Campaign held it’s first Know Your Rights Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, July 12th, 2006 at George Washington University Law School. Co-hosted by the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) and the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), the meeting featured special guest Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA) and panelists from the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Amnesty International.
The evening was moderated by Robert Babayi, IAPAC Trustee and the Executive Director of the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the IABA. Mr. Babayi explained that the Iranian American Know Your Rights Campaign comprises a coalition of national organizations, including: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Iranian American Bar Association, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), the National Lawyers Guild, and the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA). These organizations have come together to create a safety net for the Iranian American Community against various forms of discrimination.
The first speaker of the evening, Congressman Marty Meehan, spoke of the benefits of having town hall meetings. “They are the heart of grassroots political movements and succeed at informing people,” Meehan explained. Congressman Meehan is a sponsor of House Resolution 367. The resolution condemns discrimination and bigotry against Iranian Americans and is a response to documented reports of discrimination targeting the Iranian American community, which, according to civil rights and liberties organizations, has increased over the past eighteen months. Congressman Meehan went on to highlight his work with the IABA in cataloguing and reporting instances of abuse that occurred against Iranian nationals under the government’s National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
Following Congressman Meehan, panelist Dana Hutter, District Director of the EEOC, spoke of the fact that since 9/11 the EEOC has taken in over one thousand cases documenting what he and the EEOC refer to as post 9/11 backlash discrimination cases. Backlash discrimination is defined as overt and readily apparent discrimination to those who witness it. Hutter explained that the EEOC is a prime example of how a federal agency can offer protection against employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin or age. Yet Hutter and the EEOC understand that there is an obvious mistrust of the U.S. government and he urges those who have been discriminated against to come forward. “Our doors are open to you,” Hutter explained.
Also representing the Iranian American Know Your Rights Campaign was Banafsheh Akhlaghi, the founder and President of the NLSCA. Ms. Akhlaghi explained that the Know Your Rights Coalition exists as a response to the influx of calls from the Iranian American community concerning discrimination. Akhlaghi highlighted the importance of having a Know Your Rights Campaign and gave concrete examples of discrimination cases against Iranian Americans, such as security clearance denials, immigration discrimination, and unwarranted F.B.I. surveillance. Akhlaghi wants to use examples of discrimination and the Know Your Rights Campaign as an impetus for encouraging Iranian Americans to go back to their communities and stand up against discrimination.
Akhlaghi and Hutter, joined by Dalia Hashad, Director of Amnesty International, U.S. Human Rights Program, ended the evening with a question and answer session with audience members. Panelists emphasized the importance of community awareness and urged participants to share their experiences with the proper authorities.