Iranians Face Increased Harassment in U.S. : By DONAL BROWN

Pacific News Service
Tuesday August 31, 2004

WASHINGTON D.C.—Iranians in the U.S. are seeing a surge in firings and FBI interrogations and security clearance denials as anti-terrorist efforts mount and Washington’s criticism of the Iranian government sharpens.  

Dokhi Fassihian, executive director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), says she is getting up to five reports a day of Iranians complaining of harassment.  

Fassihian says Iranians have been singled out since 9/11 but that the current crackdown comes from tightening U.S. security measures as well as increased tension between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program and alleged ties with terrorist groups. “It appears that, after Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran is a likely target of the next U.S. invasion,” says Ali Golchin, an immigration lawyer in San Diego.  

Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City, says the government is definitely keeping an eye on immigrants from all over the world. But, he adds, there is added bias against Middle Easterners and Muslims, or those mistaken for them, based on fears that they are all agents of terrorism. Golchin says Iranians in the U.S. defy stereotypes, being “Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahaiis and Zoroastrians."  

Government and private employers are not applying rules fairly but are profiling by race, charges Fassihian. Iranians complain they are getting harsh treatment even though there are no specific intelligence findings marking them as security threats.  

Neil Gordon, a director with the AIDS Research Alliance in Los Angeles, reported that a key researcher, an Iranian citizen with an H-1 visa, who returned this year to Iran for her father's funeral, was stranded in Switzerland for four and a half months. The State Department required her to get her visa stamped as a condition for returning, but the U.S. consulate denied her reentry pending review of her records.  

Gordon is upset that a person who has been doing valuable work in the U.S. for seven years would be so severely. “The frustration is that it is not that she is researching anthrax or in nuclear research, it’s that she is Iranian and has a biochemistry PhD,” he says.  

Fassihian says many Iranians have been denied security clearances for federal jobs or contracts. In West Virginia, Aliakbar Afshari and Shahla Azadi, an Iranian couple, were recently fired without explanation from their jobs at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They were told there was no appeal.  

Afshari and Azadi have been permanent residents for 17 years and NIOSH employees in Morgantown for seven. In May they were told, to their surprise, that they failed a background check and were escorted from the premises. Each had passed a previous check. They were told documentation of the recent check was classified.  

Their attorney, Allan Karlin, resorted to the Freedom of Information Act, but the FBI said it had no related documents in Washington and are looking in other places. He says the government made no attempt to interview the couple’s co-employees and superiors. He learned that the Department of Homeland Security ordered the background check on individuals from “threat countries to the United States,” which includes Iran.  

Karlin obtained 20 letters from diverse sources testifying to the couple’s upstanding characters. “These are two of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing and representing,” Karlin says.  

Fassihian also cites the case of an Iranian who has been in the United States since 1973, with a green card since 1983, and applied for citizenship in 1998. His application has been stalled without explanation for six years.  

After Sept. 11, the government required all males, 18-65 years old, from 25 Middle East countries, to report to INS offices. The process was called the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS).  

In Southern California the INS handcuffed and detained some 1,000 Iranians for days without access to lawyers, family members or doctors when they voluntarily reported. Critics accused authorities of not recognizing that the detainees did not commit any crimes and, by reporting, were actually trying to comply with the law. Many were waiting for their permanent residency application to be approved, but by responding to NSEERS became subject to deportation proceedings.  

Fassihian says there is a new round of FBI interrogations, but people are too scared to step forward to tell their stories. Morad Ghorban, political director for the Iranian American Political Action Committee, thinks it is a continuation of NSEERS, during which the government made lists of Iranian nationals.  

Ghorban and Fassihian want balanced anti-terrorist measures that promote homeland security while respecting the rights of industrious and law-abiding persons. Golchin says most Iranians are successful in education, science, business and the professions and deserve the Temporary Protected Status accorded to nationals of many other nations.  

They say the treatment of Iranians is out of proportion. “Never, never has there been an instance of terrorism by someone from the Iranian community in America,” Fassihian says.