"Iranian students in the United States instructing them to commence terrorist activities by planting bombs"
My piece yesterday on how Jimmy Carter responded to the hostage crisis in Iran by issuing a ban on Iranians coming to the United States has gone viral. It's been cited by NewsMax, Rush Limbaugh and many others.
On the other side of the coin, it's been hit with attacks from the left. Either way this part of American history has stirred a lot of interest. So let's take a closer look at what really happened.
President Carter ordered a number of responses to the hostage crisis.
One of these was that, "Fourth, the Secretary of Treasury [State] and the Attorney General will invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly."
Not only were Iranians barred from entering the United States, but the large number of Iranian students already in the country were ordered to immediately report to the INS. They were asked about their support for Khomeini and feelings about the United States.
The ACLU and other left-wing groups accused Carter of violating the First Amendment. A lawsuit was filed claiming that "the primary purpose of the regulation at issue was both to punish Iranian students in the United States for past demonstrations and to chill the future exercise of their rights of speech, association, and assembly."
A Carter judge overturned the law, but it was upheld by a Federal Appeals Court and the Supreme Court declined to review the case. (A "Fact Check" at a site called FlaglerLive by Pierre Tristam claims, "It did not outlive the first glance by a judge barely three weeks after implementation." That is completely untrue.)
His response to the problem of Islamic terrorism echoed Trump's response and proposals for a moratorium on immigration by other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
Like Trump, Carter was even accused of "fearmongering" and of engaging in a "witch hunt" and violating the First Amendment.
Critics have complained that the measure targeted nationality rather than religion. But efforts were made to aid Jews, Christians and other minorities to exempt them from the consequences of the measure and bring them to the United States.
The entire crisis had been caused by the Islamic Revolution's takeover of Iran and its propensity for Islamic terrorism. The attempt to claim that it was a response to a national threat, rather than the reality of religious terrorism, ignores what actually took place.
The Islamic State's terror is just Iran's Islamic Revolution on a larger transnational scale. Sunni Islam is more widespread than Iran's Shiite Islam and the footprint of Islamic terrorists, both those associated with ISIS and with rival terror groups including Al Qaeda, is much larger. The scale of the problem has transcended any single nation, but Trump's proposal echoes that of Carter.
When dealing with Islamists, the term "nationality" has little practical meaning. Islamists define themselves by religion, not by nationality. They do not view conflicts with America as a war between nations, but a war between Islam and the Great Satan.
Carter was responding to the Islamic Revolution's attacks on Americans. But he was also addressing concerns about terrorism by Iranian students in the United States, escalating violence between Iranian students and American students and worries that access to the US embassy in Tehran would enable Iranians to arrive with forged documents to carry out attacks in America.
Critics of my piece have claimed that this was purely a state-to-state response. For example, Kim LaCapria at Snopes writes, "Carter's fourth sanction pertaining to visas for Iranian nationals was in no way a security measure".
Last month after Iranian terrorists had seized the U.S. Embassy and its staff in Tehran, authorities in Washington sent the following message to federal protective officers around the country;
"Information has been received from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that a message has been reported to have been sent to Iranian students in the United States instructing them to commence terrorist activities by planting bombs and so forth. Please notify all personnel to be on the alert for suspicious looking packages and activities. Any specific threats, articles or activities should be handled in accordance with existing anti-terrorist contingencies."
The journalist Carl Rowan, who had served as JFK's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and had sat on the National Security Council under LBJ, noted at the time that, "What is known here is that gun shops all over the country are reporting to local policy, the ATF, the FBI and other officials a rash of weapons purchases by Iranians."
"They know that Iranian militants seized equipment that enables them to forge visas and inject any number of terrorists and "hit men" into the U.S."
When the Reagan administration lifted the visa ban, it emphasized that efforts would be made to prevent Iranian terrorists from traveling to the United States.
And as Patrick Frye at the Inquistr points out, Mobasher's Iranians in Texas: Migration, Politics, and Ethnic Identity notes, "The new visa program was partly a response to alleged fear of Iranian terrorists entering the United States.”
So terrorism was very much at issue even if Carter avoided openly speaking about it to prevent further anger against Iran, panic by Americans and further legal challenges to his actions. His weak response to the hostage crisis was already at issue. The response to the Iranian students however made it obvious that this was a security issue.
There had been violent campus clashes between Iranian students and American students. Iranian students had booed former president Ford when he had expressed his support for Carter. The concern was that these Iranian students were not only anti-American, but that further violence involving them would escalate the conflict with Iran and provide a basis for retaliation against the American hostages.
Section 214.5 initially laid out some standard requirements for student visas. But then it warned that, "Willful provision of false information to the INS will be considered a violation of the conditions of the nonimmigrant's stay in the United States and will subject him or her to deportation proceedings under Section 241(a)(9) of the Act".
And, "(c) A condition of the admission and continued stay in the United States of a nonimmigrant covered by paragraph (a) of this section is obedience to all laws of United States jurisdictions which prohibit the commission of crimes of violence and for which a sentence of more than one year imprisonment may be imposed. A nonimmigrant's conviction in a jurisdiction in the United States for a crime of violence for which a *1148 sentence of more than one year imprisonment may be imposed, (regardless of whether such sentence is in fact imposed) constitutes a failure to maintain status under Section 241(a)(9) of the Act."
The emphasis on violence, rather than any other crime, made the objective of Attorney General Civiletti in regard to the Iranian students very obvious.
Some have pointed out that despite Carter's statements and the INS requirement, Iranian immigration to the United States did not stop. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the Islamic Revolution had created a flood of legitimate refugees escaping Iran, most notably Iranian Jews.
Carter's response to the Iranian Jewish refugees was mixed.
One State Department official stated that, "They don't want to antagonize Khomeini. If we were to have an official position that Iran is persecuting a number of their people, that would be a major slight."
Finally, it should surprise few people that while Carter occasionally talked tough on Iran, reports from the period, like this UPI investigation, suggest that it was mostly talk.
Despite FBI warnings terrorists from Iran may be trying to enter the United States...
"Last Sunday, at JFK Airport in New York, a young man with a student visa at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran dated before the Nov 4 takeover, was admitted after such an secondary inspection.
"During that check, the inspector found a military-like field manual that told how to make bombs and mines, fieldstrip submachine guns and use a wide range of other weapons."
"I'm ashamed to admit it," the examiner said later, "but I let him in. My hands are so tied that I couldn't stop him. Call the State Department and they say, "Give em a waiver. We don't want an incident."
While Carter talked tough to Americans, he bent over backward to avoid alienating the Islamic terrorists in Iran. Even the crackdown on Iranian students was later justified by an administration as a way to avoid an escalation with Iran due to violence between Iranian students and Americans.
Nevertheless the precedent was an important one. What Carter failed to implement properly, a future administration might carry out effectively.