Monday, August 15, 2022

Iran’s ex-soldiers say wrongfully prevented from US travel

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) — Two years ago, Lili Ghazi dropped out of biomedical engineering in Iran and seized the chance to travel to the United States to build a new life for herself and her parents.

Now, the 22-year-old has been separated from her family indefinitely after her father performed essential military service for a branch of the Iranian armed forces more than two decades ago, which the US government years later sent to a foreigner. was declared a terrorist organization. The designation prohibits anyone belonging to the group, including his or her father, from traveling to the United States.

“He had to do office work and work on plans for buildings,” said Ghazzi, who has been anxious and depressed since moving to Southern California. She hoped that her parents would eventually join her, but she later learned that her father would be forced to stay behind. “They haven’t done any activity to war or anything. There was nothing like that.”

Traveling to the United States has long been a challenge for Iranians and visa applicants often wait months or even years for background checks. But since the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization in 2019, for anyone serving in the branch, even as a conscript and a non-combatant Getting a visa to travel in the role has become impossible. United States.

Many Iranian Americans and their families hoped that the Biden administration would reverse course on the designation so that those who served as deputies could still travel. They note that Iranian men are forced to serve if they wish to obtain passports to leave the country, no matter which branch they are assigned to, and that the mass painting or office Perform basic tasks like jobs.

But their hopes were dashed when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in late April that Iran had no plans to remove the designation except for a change. He acknowledged in remarks to US lawmakers that the people most affected are the ones, while “the people who are the real bad guys have no intention of traveling.”

“There must be exceptions, and right now we don’t have exceptions,” said Eli Bollor, a Los Angeles immigration attorney whose firm has sued over how the lawsuit is enforced. “It is unfair for the US government to just throw a towel over everything and lump everyone together. He is lazy.”

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The US has designated a long list of foreign terrorist organizations of the 1990s, including Hamas and Peru’s Shining Path. But the groups are almost entirely private militias, not state-run entities, such as the IRGC, that recruit under the law.

The Secretary of State designates the groups in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury and with Congressional review, and may also revoke the designations. For example, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was listed as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 and decommissioned in 2021.

Those who provide aid or resources to foreign terrorist organizations and who are not US citizens cannot enter the country legally and face deportation. In addition, the financial institutions controlling the funds for these groups must retain possession of the funds and report them to the US authorities.

A US State Department spokesman did not immediately say how many former Iranian soldiers had visa applications affected by the designation. The spokesperson said applications are reviewed on an individual basis and exemptions may be applied in some cases. The spokesman said the designations “play a vital role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of reducing support for terrorist activities and to pressure groups to exit the business of terrorism.”

However, immigration lawyers said they are getting several calls from ex-servicemen dealing with the issue and are not seeing exceptions. Attorney Scott Emerick, who worked with Bollor, said he had received hundreds of calls and believed the government could make exceptions for those who did not volunteer.

Tahir Kameli, an attorney in Chicago who has also filed the lawsuit, said he calls people daily to ask how the designation affects them. He said he did not believe the US government could list another country’s military as a foreign terrorist organization and noted that previous administrations also had problems with the branch and avoided creating the designation because of its consequences.

“We are not here to say that the IRGC is doing something right or wrong. We are just saying that the way the designation is done is wrong,” said Kameli, who represents the Iran-born US-educated doctor affected by the rule.

The fallout from the designation extended far beyond the United States. Iranians said the US shares data on travelers with countries in Europe and Canada, and feared they would be barred from traveling there as well.

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Several Canadian citizens of Iranian descent said they faced additional scrutiny during the first quick and easy trips across the border. Amir Abolhasani, a 41-year-old engineer, said he had traveled to the United States several times without any problems as a Canadian citizen, but was recently stopped by authorities on a trip to North Carolina, where his company There were plans to relocate them. a new job.

Abolhasani was told he could not leave more than a decade ago because of his recruiting, which he said included two months of basic training for the branch and designing water pipelines. He said he was appointed at random and the service was necessary so that he could obtain a passport and leave the country to continue his education.

Now, he and his wife are in limbo as they have already sold their house for the move, but are not getting visas.

“The worst part is they tell you you are a terrorist,” Abolhasani said. “We have come out of that country because we were against their policies, because we were against their behaviour, and are now saying, ‘You belong to that system, you belong to that regime, you are part of that organization’. We have listed ‘terrorist organizations’ – this is very unjust. It is intolerable.”

The designation also weighs heavily on Iranian citizens who have been living in the US with green cards for years and want to become US citizens.

Paris Etemadi Scott is the legal director of the PARS Equality Center in San Jose, California, which provides legal and social services to Persian-speaking and immigrants from other countries.

She said she now tells most clients who have served at a contested branch — or whose spouses — to think twice about applying for naturalization because they have to go to an interview. Faced with additional questions and forced to sign off. Detailed statement under oath about his long past military service.

“We thought it was a Trump thing but obviously nothing has changed,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I no longer have the stamina to go through this test. We recommend you wait and see.'”

Nation World News Desk
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