Iranian professionals detained at S.F. airport, face deportation
By Jessie Mangaliman and Katherine Corcoran
As many as a dozen prominent Iranian professionals, arriving with valid U.S. visas in the Bay Area to attend an international gathering this weekend, are being detained at the San Francisco International Airport, refused entry by immigration officials and facing deportation.
A husband and wife from Tehran were deported from San Francisco airport Thursday, the latest to be turned away from U.S. ports in recent days. Between 40 and 50 Iranians were deported this week from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, organizers of the gathering said, in a case that some are condemning as a political response to recent tensions between the United States and Iran.
Laura Tischler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs declined to comment on the case of detained and deported Iranians, citing confidentiality.
Visas, she said, ``can be revoked at anytime, when there are indications of possibility of ineligibility for admission'' into the United States.
This afternoon, organizers of the gathering of Sharif University of Technology Association, alumni of a prominent university in Tehran, called a news conference to protest the detentions and deportations. Many of them were former exiles from Iran and are now American citizens living in the Bay Area.
``It's a mystery to us,'' said Fredun Hojabri, a retired University of California-San Diego professor and founding president of the association, a California-based non-profit, alumni organization.
Fredun said he doesn't understand why the government would revoke at the last minute a visa its own agency issued.
``It's a political decision not to allow them here,'' he said.
Max Panahandeh, principal at Berkeley Applied Science and Engineering, said he spent three frustrating hours at San Francisoc airport Thursday afternoon, waiting for his friend, Majid Kobravi, an electrical engineer from Tehran. Kobravi was scheduled to arrive with half dozen others who were attending the reunion.
Panahandeh's friend reached an immigration official who allowed someone from Majid's group to speak with them briefly. Then he delivered the news: their visas had been revoked and they were detained in ``jail-like conditions.''
All those detained or deported are citizens of Iran -- engineers, chemists, physicists and scientists, university professors and business owners -- who received visas months ago from U.S. consulate in Dubai. They were to attend a gathering of graduates of Sharif University of Technology, a well-known science and engineering institution founded 40 years ago in Tehran.
The reunion, scheduled in international destinations every two years, opened today at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara. About 600 people from across the United States and Canada, Europe and Asia are expected to attend.
After a rigorous security clearance, 120 Iranians were issued visas to attend the conference. Hojabri wrote the invitation letters that the alumni submitted to the consulates in Tehran and Dubai.
About 20 applicants did not receive visas because they required additional security clearances, he said.
Everything seemed in order for attendees arriving from Tehran until Monday, when Hojabri heard reports of someone being detained overnight and then deported from the Los Angeles International Airport. After that, similar reports began coming in from Chicago, then New York.
On Thursday night, after learning that as many as a dozen more were being detained at San Franisco airport, officials of the organization responded. They tried to see the detainees but we refused, said Nancy Hormachea, a Bay Area immigration attorney who represents the alumni association.
``These are intellectuals, prominent people from Iran who have a positive impression of the United States,'' Hormachea said. ``They've never ever been so humiliated and insulted.''
Elahe Enssani, a civil engineering professor at San Francisco State University and a graduate of Sharif University, expressed frustration.
``It's fine if you don't issue visas,'' she said. ``But why would you issue a visa and then at the airport say it's revoked?''
``I'm obviously very disappointed at what my government is doing,'' she said. ``It's sad.''
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