Iranians Meet an Unkind Host
Jaleh Poorooshasb '80 is an Iranian student who holds a visa for permanent residency in the United States. The State Department granted her the visa, which will allow her to stay in this country indefinitely, because she has relatives who are U.S. citizens. Poorooshasb is one of a number of students exempted from President Carter's "hard-line" policy of not renewing Iranian students' visas when they expire. Carter's policy of denying entry to the U.S. to Iranians will still indirectly affect Poorooshasb, though, for it means her parents will not be allowed to attend Commencement.
Guive Nifendereski, a fifth-year student at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, is not so lucky. he will probably spend the next few weeks in court. Nifendereski faces a possible trial, and then appeal proceedings but he has not broken any law. He is an Iranian student who holds a visa that will expire soon, and although he still has a year left at Fletcher, the State Department will not renew his visa. He must leave the U.S. within ten days after his visa expires or the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will deport him.
Almost seven months ago, in the wake of the seizure of 53 Americans by militant students in Tehran, the White House demanded that all Iranian students in the U.S. register with INS officials in their area. Although some officials threatened that deportations would begin immediately, little happened.
But in early April, after a United Nations commission which visited Iran failed to produce quick results toward obtaining the release of the hostages, Carter announced a new "hard-line policy toward Iranian students.
Following Carter's announcement, the State Department sent a directive to INS directors, instructing them to turn down all applications by Iranians for extensions of visas and for permanent residency.
The directive exempts three groups from the policy: Iranians with immediate relatives in the U.S., applications for political asylum and those who can present humanitarian (read medical) reasons. Since April, approximately 4000 students have left the U.S., many without completing their studies, as a result of the policy, and 10,000 more of the 70,000 Iranian students in the U.S. may be required to leave by next fall. About a quarter of all Iranian students hold dated visas, the kind that expire each year (usually around May 31), and must be renewed by the INS. The remainder hold "duration of status" visas that are valid until the students finish their studies. The distinction between "duration" and "dated" visas arises from a bureaucratic decision of the INS to reduce the extensive record-keeping system that "dated" visas required.
Local INS officials report that about 200 Iranian students have left the Boston area since early April, and that almost 100 are currently involved in deportation hearings. After the INS labels students, most leave the country within the 15-day deadline, but INS has had to forcibly deport two students, and, in one instance, a student assaulted an immigration officer who was attempting to process the student's deportation papers. "They are not pleased with the policy," Timothy Whelan, deputy director of the New England district INS, says simply.
Faculty and administrators at several U.S. universities criticized Carter's policy, which affects only those holding dated visas, as arbitrary. Many have expressed disapproval of the INS policy and disagree with White House claims that the measures will aid in obtaining the release of the American hostages.
At Harvard, where 15 of the University's 37 Iranian students will be required to leave by the fall, officials, despite their quiet words, have lobbied against the order. President Bok, for example recently joined Tufts' president Jean Mayer in signing a letter to Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie which calls for repealing the INS policy. Bok says he doubts the government's policy will affect the hostage situation and labels Carter's motivations "rather obscure." State Department spokesmen confirm that the department has received Bok and Mayer's letter but decline to say what their response will be.
Whelan sees a direct link between the hostages and Iranian students in the U.S. In light of the government's unsuccessful efforts thus far, Whelan says, Carter's policy toward Iranian students might help with the hostages' release.
But most local experts disagree with Whelan and the government. Richard Frye, Aga Khan Professor of Iranian, calls Carter's measures "absolutely incredible" and "stupid." "The idea is just wrong," Frye says, adding, "The Iranian government is not going to be moved to release the hostages by this action." Roger Fisher '43, Williston Professor of Law, who has written extensively about the situation in Iran, argues that the White House has made "a great mistake to respond to the madness in Iran by madness over here."
Other universities in the area have responded to the problem with varying degrees of concern for their students. In addition to the letter Mayer and Bok signed, Mayer sent a letter to The New York Times last December, soon after Carter first announced his policy, saying that the action "insults and attacks" the students, and calling for repeal of the measure. Mayer also promised that Tufts will furnish legal aid to its students and is prepared to pursue any kind of legal action on their behalf if it will help them to remain in the U.S. But since the Supreme Court has already declared that the U.S. is under no obligation to renew visas for any foreign citizen, and specifically Iranian students, it is unclear if Mayer's offer means anything concrete.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has displayed the greatest support for its students of any area university. In a special meeting held on May 29, faculty members overwhelmingly adopted a resolution "deploring" the government's action and questioning its constitutionality. The faculty resolved to "take appropriate action" and to "offer legal support... for principled court challenges to these policies," but it failed to devise a list of specific steps.
Shahrokh Rouhani, an Iranian graduate student at Harvard, says action by MIT and other local universities will aid in speeding the release of the hostages. Rouhani, who holds a "duration-of-status" visa and may remain at Harvard until he graduates next June, says the White House policy stems from a basic misunderstanding of the aims of the Iranian nation and the nature of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's government.
Rouhani's uncle was imprisoned by SAVAK, the shah's secret police force for many years because of his activities in the National Front, and agents of the shah harassed other members of his family. Because of Iranian experience with abuse at the hands of American-backed forces, Rouhani says, they see the action against the students as just another in a long line of injustices. Far from causing them to consider releasing the hostages, Carter's hard line will simply strengthen their resolve to persevere until the U.S. apologizes.
But despite the feelings of students like Rouhani and efforts of area universities to rectify the INS policy, Carter has not given any indication that he will back down on his stance. Neither Bok nor Mayer, who say they have spoken with government officials, have received any signals that their efforts are affecting decisions made in Washington, and both offer only guarded optimism for the fate of Iranian students.
Even if the State Department does reverse its order and permit Iranians to continue their studies in this country, it will be too late for the thousands of students who have already been forced to leave. Many voice doubt that Carter will reverse his decision in an election year, and, if he does not, Nifendereski and the many students like him may be returning to their homeland sooner than they thought.