Home/Daniel Larison/The Ongoing Harassment and Mistreatment of Iranian Students

The Ongoing Harassment and Mistreatment of Iranian Students

Last year, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Timesreported on the Iranian students whose valid student visas to study in the U.S. were being revoked at the last minute. Now the same thing is happening to a new group of students, but it is occurring after they have already flown here:

In recent months, however, a growing number of Iranians with valid student visas have been detained upon arrival at US airports by Customs and Border Protection and deported back to Iran. Some of them have been barred from returning to the United States for years.

Since August, at least 10 students have been sent back to Iran upon their arrival at US airports, the Guardian found, the most recent of whom was deported on 3 January. Seven of those 10 students had flown into Logan international airport in Boston, where some of them allege serious infractions by CBP, including multiple complaints about an individual officer.

It was bad enough when the government was slamming the door in the faces of students that had legitimate visas before they boarded their planes, and it is inexcusable to do the same to them after they travel here at enormous expense. Forcing these students to return to Iran imposes a huge burden on them, and it does great harm to their academic careers and future prospects. In many cases, the students who are coming to study here have had to quit jobs at home and sell their property in order to make the journey here, and when they are forced to return they can’t just go back to the lives they had. They are being made to put their lives and careers on hold for no good reason. This is what the Trump administration’s “support” for the Iranian people looks like in practice.

There were reports this evening that the same thing had happened to Shahab Dehghani, an undergraduate economics and math student who was returning to continue his studies at Northeastern University:

As I am writing this, it was still unclear whether Mr. Dehghani’s deportation would happen, but if it does it will be one more in a series of outrageous decisions to punish Iranian students solely because of where they come from.

The revocation of so many student visas of Iranian students over the last few months is an ugly by-product of the Trump administration’s reckless Iran policy. It appears that Iranian students are being unfairly subjected to harsher scrutiny simply because of their nationality, and they are being forced to undergo tremendous hardship when they have the rug pulled out from under their feet by arbitrary decisions upon their arrival here. The mistreatment of these students is further proof that the exemption for student visas contained in the travel ban is increasingly meaningless. There is no question that Iranian students are being singled out more than students from any other country:

According to the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, a not-for-profit advocacy organization, the removal of Iranian students upon their arrival “has increased substantially within the past few months” as political tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated. “The number of cases we hear about from other communities does not compare to what’s happening to Iranians,” said Ali Rahnama, PAAIA attorney.

The U.S. should be happy to welcome students from Iran to study in our colleges and universities, not least since it is one of the few points of contact between our two countries in the absence of normal diplomatic and trade relations. These are some of the brightest young Iranians who want to be here, and we should want them to be here. All of the reports about these students have mentioned that these students have usually had options to study in other countries, but chose to come to the U.S. Our government thanks them for their enthusiasm by slapping them in the face, mistreating them at the border, and shipping them back to Iran. Once deported, these students won’t have the option to apply immediately for new visas even if they wanted to. Instead, they face a ban of five years:

All of the students denied entry in Boston were officially deported and banned from the US for five years.

Multiple students said CBP gave them records of their questioning that were partly inaccurate or fabricated, while others were put on planes back to Iran without a copy of the paperwork. “I don’t know under which section of the law I was not allowed to enter the US,” Shahkhajeh said.

The infuriating thing about all of this is that it is obviously not related to any real security concerns. Thoroughly vetted students that want to attend our schools are not threats to this country, and they would not have received their visas if there were any legitimate reason to think that they were.

These students have already gone through an extensive process in order to get their visas, but they are still getting hassled when they arrive for no apparent reason:

Several immigration attorneys said they could not make sense of these deportations. “Why should an eight-month visa process be thrown out over a couple questions at the airport?” Rahnama said. “These students already disclosed all their information and went through months and months of security clearance,” he added.

In addition to the repetitive, pointless questioning, the Iranian students reported abusive treatment by CBP officers:

Between rounds of questioning, officers searched the contents of Elmi’s bags and made him unlock his phone and write down the password. Then in another room, they told him to spread his legs and put his hands on the wall. “They started with my legs and worked up,” Elmi said. “They treated me like I was a terrorist.”

Several of the students who were deported from the Boston airport said the screening there was aggressive and in some cases abusive. A student held for questioning at the airport in August while he was en route to Detroit said he was led to a private room with a metal table. “In the room, the officer’s behavior changed. He got aggressive,” said the student, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution in future visa applications. “Tell us the fucking truth!” the student remembers the officer shouting. “I was so scared I was shaking,” the student said. The officer asked him if he was a radical Muslim.

The damage to these students’ lives has already been done, but perhaps by calling attention to this mistreatment and harassment of Iranian students the public can put pressure on Congress to act to prevent it from happening to any more students in the future.

Update: Sahab Dehghani was sent back last night in defiance of a court order:

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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