Turquoise Lounge Opens at San Francisco Airport
San Francisco - In August of 2006, about 100 Iranian scholars, professional engineers and family members traveled to the United States to attend the 4th International reunion of Sharif University of Technology which was held in Santa Clara, CA from August 4-6th.
The focus of the reunion was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the university and to discuss Natural Disaster Management with emphasis on Earthquake and Tsunami.
The participants were traveling with valid visas and their ports of entries were San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and several other major cities throughout the United States. Upon their arrival in the United States, they were met by Customs and Border protection at their arriving gates and were later informed their visas had been revoked and they were denied entry into the United States.
About thirty of the participants arrived at the San Francisco International Airport and half of them were deported to their country of origin on the next available flight on the same date. The remaining individuals were deported the next day. They were fingerprinted, handcuffed, interrogated, separated from other family members, including children, and incarcerated in the Santa Clara County jail over night while arrangements were made for a returned flight to their countries of origin. None were charged with any crime but instead were forced to return to their country of origin.
Each year, the United States Customs and Border Protection estimates that 520 non-criminal individuals arrive in San Francisco and are determined inadmissible. Approximately 200 of those individuals are accommodated on return flights in a timely manner. The remaining 320 are turned over to the Department of Detention and Removal for transport to the Santa Clara County jail until a return flight can be arranged.
In August and September of last year, as the result of this incident, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission heard the group’s complaints and was outraged with the treatment of innocent individuals. The Commission began the process to request appropriate steps to be taken to prevent the incarceration of innocent visitors to San Francisco with invalid visas or where valid visas have been revoked.
After a year of investigation and collaboration, the Human Rights Commission achieved its objective. Both the United States Customs and Boarder Protection and the Airport Commission responded promptly and cooperatively to the issue by designating an area within the Airport as a holding facility for visitors to San Francisco whose visas have been revoked or canceled and are deemed inadmissible. Even though San Francisco Airport is not a 24 hour airport, with the cooperation of the Customs and Border Protection and the Airport Commission, the required securities were put in place and this lounge is now open 24 hours.
This new facility has been named Turquoise Lounge in honor of the Iranian visitors to San Francisco who prompted its creation. This lounge offers individuals a more humane setting while they await their departing flights. It contains amenities such as reclining leather chairs, television, magazines, toys, telephone and food – a comfortable lounge to preserve and protect the decorum and the human rights of the individuals. Turquoise Lounge opened on August 1st and since its opening, it has housed over 100 individuals overnight.
On behalf of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, I would like to extend our heartfelt and most sincere apologies to all the visitors who had to endure such harsh treatments. By creating this lounge, we are gratified that all individuals are treated with dignity which is the birth right of every human being.
Commissioner Nazly Mohajer, Committee Chair
San Francisco Human Rights Commission