Congressman Marty T. Meehan Hosts Forum on Immigration Issues Facing the Iranian Community
Boston, MA, September 1st – At Suffolk University Law School, Congressman Marty T. Meehan (D-MA) hosted a public forum on immigration issues facing the Iranian American community with the assistance of the Iranian Association of Boston (IAB) and the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC). The event, which was moderated by IAPAC Trustee Ross Haghighat, included two panels of three speakers each who spoke on various themes of immigration and then fielded specific questions from the mostly Iranian American audience.
Meehan, a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, started the event stressing the need to adopt immigration policies that keep Americans safe but still welcome immigrants from all over the world. “The fact is,” he said, “immigrants share core American values.”
However, citing such looming problems as application backlogs, detentions, and deportations, Meehan said that the immigration system has failed. Moreover, he highlighted the fact that Iranians, whom the U.S. government deems nationals of a “state sponsor of terrorism,” have experienced these difficulties to a disproportionate degree.
The first panel convened with speeches by Bostonians Denis Riordan and John Fairfax of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Riordan and Fairfax addressed concerns of discrimination against Iranians by immigration officials, insisting that immigration law is applied equally to all applicants who seek naturalization. Riordan also provided some explanations for delays in the visa application process, which he partially attributed to lacking resources and the need to administer thorough – and often extensive – security checks on every applicant, a process that has become ever more important in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
The third speaker on the first panel was Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Noorani criticized the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) - which extends surveillance and documentation over nationals from countries perceived as national security risks - as ineffective, and he questioned the “reasonable grounds” on which the attorney general may apprehend an individual suspected of being a terrorist, as stipulated under the PATRIOT Act.
Noorani also condemned the pending Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003, which requires local officers to enforce immigration laws, saying that such a mandate would place a great burden on local officials and strain their relationship with the community. He stressed the need for Iranian Americans and other immigrant communities to reach out to one another and to establish relationships with their elected officials in order to have a more influential voice in the public sphere.
The second panel consisted of Soroush R. Shehabi, a board member of the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) and IAPAC Trustee; James S. Irani, a practicing immigration attorney with a Ph.D from New York University; and Banafhseh Akhlaghi, an attorney and outspoken advocate of immigrants’ rights.
Mr. Shehabi discussed the findings of an investigation entitled “ Review of the Treatment of Iranian Nationals by the INS in Connection with the Implementation of NSEERS Special Registration Program,” a report that the IABA conducted with the assistance of attorneys from the law firm William, Cutler, and Pickering. The report found that the implementation of the NSEERS program resulted in the violation of the rights of a large number of registrants – many of whom were of Iranian descent – including improper interrogations, arbitrary detentions, and mistreatment of registrants by INS officials.
Mr. Shehabi proposed that the U.S. government permanently terminate the NSEERS program and open a dialogue concerning the failures of the special registration program. He also recommended that the government provide redress, where appropriate, for those aggrieved individuals who voluntarily attempted to comply with the registration program but were nevertheless detained and placed through deportation proceedings despite the fact that they had legal pending claims for permanent residency.
Drs. Irani and Akhlaghi – both immigration attorneys – recounted experiences of their clients to illustrate the sense of injustice held by many Iranian nationals whose lives have been made more difficult by American immigration policy after 9/11. They spoke passionately, asking the audience to follow their accounts of their clients’ experiences. Akhlaghi condemned what she considered racial profiling by the INS, who she claims treated law abiding individuals like common criminals. According to Akhlaghi, many Iranians were held without bond, access to attorneys, and contact with their families. Both Akhlaghi and Irani echoed earlier calls for the permanent termination of NSEERS and for the Iranian American community to become more active in American political life.
The forum was attended by around 100 people and concluded with a Q&A session amongst the participants and panelists. Individuals that are having difficulties with their pending immigration applications were encouraged to contact Esperanza Watkins at Congressman Meehan’s office for assistance.