Iranian community outraged by SFO detention policy

At least 10 Iranian graduates of a prestigious engineering school were detained by immigration officials at the San Francisco International Airport on Thursday and refused entry into the United States, according to the school’s alumni association.

The graduates, all carrying valid U.S. visas, were in route to Santa Clara for a three-day gathering of alumni of the Tehran-based Sharif University of Technology, according to Fredun Hojabri, founding president of the university’s alumni association and a retired University of California, San Diego, professor.

About 150 Iranians had applied for visas from U.S. consulates in Tehran or Dubai to attend the event, Hojabri said, and 120 were issued.

At least two were deported, and the rest are facing the same fate, according to Bay Area immigration lawyer Stacy Tolchin, who is representing the association.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs declined to comment on the cases, saying they are confidential. U.S. visas can be revoked at any time when information comes in deeming the traveler ineligible, the department said.

Every two years, the Sharif University of Technology Alumni Association hosts an alumni gathering in different locations around the world.

This weekend’s reunion is expected to draw 600 people — accomplished engineers, chemists and scientists — from around the world.

As the association learned of these cases and several others in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, it called a press conference Friday, accusing the government of bullying the Iranians based on recent clashes between the White House and the Iranian government.

“There is really no excuse for suddenly revoking all the visas,” Hojabri said. “It must be something political. They want maybe to show some toughness against Iran in this way.”

For the past four months, immigration officials knew these people were coming to the United States, he added.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, an Iranian-American, said “it is absolutely absurd” for immigration officials to detain the Iranians, and faulted the government for “penalizing and punishing those” who have nothing to do with the Iranian government.

“It’s unfortunate these people have been insulated and humiliated,” said Bay Area immigration attorney Nancy Hormachea, who is also representing the association. “I’m sure this is definitely going to tarnish their impression of this country.”

The reunion will go on as scheduled. “[The reunion] will be a subdued environment, obviously. It’s very sad,” said Ahamd Ganji, a professor at the San Francisco State University, whose friend, a 56-year-old Iranian engineer, was detained at the San Francisco airport.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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