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Iranian students recount harrowing ordeal at US airports

A growing number of Iranian students are being detained, interrogated and deported by US authorities upon arrival at American airports.

The New York Times has published interviews with some of them, many of whom had secured admission to some of the world’s most prestigious universities. 

According to the paper, at least 16 Iranian students have been turned back since August, despite having valid visas which they had obtained after a notoriously grueling, months-long vetting process.

When the students reached American airports, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers disagreed and sent them home, some with a five-year ban on reapplying to return to the United States, it said. 

Most say they were not told why they were deemed “inadmissible” — a broad label that customs officers have wide discretion to apply.

“What the students do know is that, at a time of rising diplomatic tensions between the United States and Iran, their plans for the future seem to have evaporated,” the paper said. 

Amin, 34, entering a Ph.D program at the University of Florida, was turned away January 1 at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.

Iranian student deported from US despite federal judge order

Iranian student deported from US despite federal judge orderUS Customs and Border Protection has deported an Iranian student with a valid visa despite a federal court order to delay his removal.

But at the airport, officers wanted to know why a former school email address and an old research paper he had written were not disclosed on his visa application.

A flight back to Iran was not available for a couple of days, so Amin said he was placed in a chilly holding cell for six hours, then transported in cuffs and chains to an immigration detention facility in Georgia. The officers there ordered him to strip naked in front of them.

“The moment I entered the cell, I lost my spirit,” he said.

Hamid, 22, entering a combined master’s and Ph.D program in engineering at University of Notre Dame, was sent back January 11 from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Hamid, who had been accepted for a fully-funded graduate program, waited eight months for his visa. Then when he arrived in Chicago, he was placed in a holding cell for 19 hours.

Officers asked him for his opinion on political events in Iran and whether he thought Iran was doing “the right thing.”

Hamid said he and two other detained travelers were given foam mattresses and thin blankets, and he hardly slept.

“After 24 hours, I was transferred to the boarding gate in the company of two armed officers, as if I was some kind of terrorist. It was both humiliating and dehumanizing,” he said.

Reihana Emami, 35, planned to attend Harvard Divinity School. She was turned away September 18 at Logan airport.

Tehran condemns US ‘harassment’ of Iranians at its borders

Tehran condemns US ‘harassment’ of Iranians at its bordersIran has denounced “unconstitutional and inhuman” treatment of travelers of Iranian descent by US border guards, saying the American government holds responsibility for the harassment.

She said a CBP officer asked her “what Iranian people think about the explosion in Saudi Arabia,” an apparent reference to the wave of explosions that had rocked Saudi oil facilities a few days earlier, blamed on Yemen’s Houthi forces.

“I said I am not a political person — I’m interested in philosophical questions,” she said.

Pegah, 28, was preparing to study for a master’s degree in business administration at Southern New Hampshire University. She was returned home on Aug. 1 from Logan airport.

She said a CBP officer had asked her a series of questions like which ships Iran hid weapons in, and why Iran had captured a British oil tanker in July.

“He said, ‘Did you know we can catch you and keep you here in the United States, and no one will understand where you are, the same way Iran does to Americans?’”

Pegah said she was frightened. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything. I really don’t. I’m just a student.’”

After inauguration in 2016, US President Donald Trump controversially pushed through a ban suspending issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant visas to applicants from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

The restriction, which has gained notoriety as “a Muslim ban,” later expanded to include Venezuela and North Korea, and, as Trump suggested during his electoral campaign, could end up affecting even more countries.

The number of the student visas issued to applicants from the affected countries has dramatically dropped since the ban’s introduction.

Those who would be given the visas after clearing stringent examinations by American immigration officials are allowed to travel to the US only once and stay until the end of their study periods. The visa holders are also banned from receiving visits from their family members.

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