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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

April 5, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Iranian students stopped by Border Protection

As relations between the United States and Iran continue to worsen, individuals traveling from Iran continue to be stopped, detained and reportedly harassed upon entry in the United States. Two college students from Iran claim to have been mistreated and illegally denied entry into the U.S. at Logan International Airport in Boston. 

The two students, Shahab Dehghani, 23, and Reihana Emami Arandi, 35, were both on their way to universities in the Boston area. They have now filed separate civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requesting an investigation of the conduct of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. 

In their complaints, both students say that they were taken in and questioned for hours and that their luggage was confiscated and searched. Arandi said that her cellphone was also confiscated and that the officers did not allow her to make any calls, not even to the individuals awaiting her at the school she was attending. After hours of interrogation, the officials concluded the two students were planning to stay in the country longer than their temporary student visas allowed. According to the students, this was a false claim. Neither Arandi nor Dehghani said that they had any plans to overstay their visas’ expirations and that the officials did not have any proof to support these conclusions. 

Arandi was arriving for her first week of classes at Harvard University, beginning a graduate degree at Harvard’s Divinity School. While detained, Arandi refused to sign a statement officials provided to her and, as a result, has been banned from U.S. entry for five years. She said she denied the signature because she did not understand what the statement was asking of her. 

Arandi said she did not have any intention of staying in the United States beyond her years in school. She said she plans to earn a master’s degree at Harvard University and then conduct research, teach and partake in humanitarian work in the Middle East or North Africa.

 “I have never had any interest in or intention to stay in the U.S. for the longterm,” Arandi stated in her complaint. “In fact, Harvard is the only school in the U.S. I even applied to.” 

Dehghani attends Northeastern University and studies economics and mathematics. In his complaint filed Monday, Dehghani claims that in recent years, he was able to enter the U.S. three different times. However, in the more recent attempts at entry, he said it took approximately a year of the U.S. Department of State vetting him before he was granted a visa. 

Both Dehghani and Arandi said they were not permitted to communicate with attorneys and were also subjected to “threatening and uncivil interrogation” about topics like religion, political beliefs and opinions about recent events in the Middle East. 

“This entire situation is unacceptable and was handled in an utterly unprofessional manner,” Dehghani’s complaint stated. “This behavior by members of Customs and Border Protection cannot stand.” 

Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined comment, while the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to an email seeking commentary. 

Since August, these two students are two of at least 10 different Iranian individuals who have been denied entry into the United States. According to civil rights groups, Iranians continue to be targeted for intense questioning, extra screenings and inappropriate personal background checks. This has been happening since 2017, they said, when President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on individuals from several predominately Muslim countries.