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To Be Iranian in Colorado Today: with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019 – Transcript, Part Two

July 30, 2019

CAIR Report on Islamophobia – 2019

“To Be An Iranian in Colorado” Transcript – KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. July 23, 2019. Transcript – Part Two.

(Part One)

(Discussion continued)

(Note: The discussion continues with extended remarks by Kevin Amirehsani. Kevin analyzes the politics and economics of Iran for the Economist Intelligence Unit. He is also the head of the Colorado chapter of the National American-Iranian Council, or NIAC as well as a current board member of the Abrahamic Initiative, a Denver based organization committed to increasing interfaith understanding through understanding)

With that having been said, many of my Iranian many of my Iranian brothers, sisters, friends have had different experiences and I was hoping to share a few of those. There are things that go “under the radar.” These are very discriminatory events that are either directly precipitated by the U.S. government or they are U.S. government policies that indirectly have led to a violation of rights of Iranian Americans. – Kevin Amirehsani, National Iranian-American Council of Colorado

Rob Prince: To be an Iranian in Colorado, Kevin, what’s it like?

Kevin Amirehsani: What’s it like? That’s quite the question!

First off I’d like to say thanks to KGNU Host Jim Nelson for having me on; I’m a big fan of Hemispheres. Thank you to Rob and Ibrahim for all the great community work you’ve done over the years.

For me being an Iranian-American in Colorado – I’ve had largely positive experiences to be honest. People here are curious about Iran, curious about the culture. Occasionally I get the offhand comment – or a comment that makes me feel that people are curious and want to learn more about my heritage, and want to learn more about Iran.

I don’t think it’s typically coming from malice – I could be interpreting this a bit optimistically but I’ve had pretty positive interactions with Coloradans. Knock on wood! I love Colorado; it’s a great place here.

With that having been said, many of my Iranian many of my Iranian brothers, sisters, friends have had different experiences and I was hoping to share a few of those. There are things that go “under the radar.” These are very discriminatory events that are either directly precipitated by the U.S. government or they are U.S. government policies that indirectly have led to a violation of rights of Iranian Americans.

Most people don’t know about this stuff.

One issue is bank accounts. A simple bank account which is so useful for everyday commerce and life. We’ve had numerous local Colorado Iranian-Americans have had their bank accounts frozen or have had difficulty opening up bank accounts.

Rob Prince: Kevin, are they given a reason for freezing the bank accounts?

Kevin Amirehsani: In most cases the reason given is simply “U.S. sanctions. This is especially true with Bank of America – they are notorious for this.” They freeze the accounts, sometimes for weeks on end until they are provided sufficient evidence that the bank account holder has a U.S. address and has a valid immigration status. It’s their interpretation of the U.S. sanctions, complying with U.S. sanctions.

It’s pretty preposterous.

This has had a big effect on local Iranian Americans.

Another issue that falls under the radar a lot is Department of Homeland Security interrogations with Iranians.

We’ve had at least five Iranian-American students who have been recently interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security agents this past year.

Rob Prince: Is this ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or more broadly speaking?

Kevin Amirehsani: From what I hear, they identify themselves as coming from Homeland Security – DHS. They’re asking these students all sorts of questions like “What are you doing here in Colorado?” “Why did you choose to come to the U.S.?” “What sort of Iranian communities are you a part of (in the U.S.)?”

Most worryingly, they want to learn more about the Iranian Community here in Colorado. Needless to say for people working predominantly in Science, Engineering, high impact fields, simply wanting to mind their own business, this instills a lot of fear and anxiety in our community, so, again, (this is) totally “under the radar;” not many people know about this.

Rob Prince: So (Homeland Security’s) goal appears to be to get information on the different trends within the Iranian Community here?

Kevin Amirehsani: From the feedback I have received, yes. They want to know more about what Iranians are doing. Sometimes they even ask questions about “What do you think about the 2009 protests (in Iran)?” “What do you think about the Iranian government?” So they ask very intrusive questions.

These (Iranian students in Colorado) are people who want to stay out of politics. They just want to do their phd’s, their post-doc work and contribute to the U.S. economy and this the thanks they get.

Let me mention one more problem: federal employment discrimination.

As you can imagine with lots of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology), graduates here in Colorado, Iranian-Americans who are working in Science, Engineering, Computer Science often times they hope to get internships or work with a federal laboratory like NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) in Golden or MyST (My Science Tutor) right here in Boulder.

In one case, we’ve had a prominent Iranian-American researcher told he’d be a shoe-in for a research position at NREL; in fact he co-published papers with NREL researchers. But once they found out he was Iranian, the conversation quickly stopped. In fact he couldn’t even step foot in NREL. Literally they would not grant him permission to go on an NREL tour.

Jim Nelson: How recent was that?

Kevin Amirehsani: This was about three or four months ago.

Jim Nelson: With the way the Trump Administration is threatening all types of federal government departments – the EPA and so forth – the Administrators at these agencies must fear “being under the gun” when hiring someone from Iran? I’m not trying to justify it; it’s unbelievable.

Rob Prince: Did these practices start with the Trump Administration, intensified with it or did these tendencies exist prior to Trump getting elected?

Kevin Amirehsani: I would say it intensified. I should be clear; these aren’t national security related topics. In one case the subject consisted of the analysis of algae; it was literally algae science that was the research that this individual was working on.

The practices have intensified.

Over the last ten, twelve years, the Department of Energy laboratories have put their foot down a bit more with Iranians, but no, we have cases – I have one case, actually of a friend of mine, who got a verbal offer of acceptance of a paid internship at NREL and then HR (the agencies Human Resources department) called him twenty later, found out he was Iranian, and they were like “oh wait, wo, wo!”

Typically with Iranian applicants we have half a year worth of security checks. Sometimes (it takes) up to two years. This is not going to work.

As you can imagine, this is a total violation of the Equal Opportunity provisions, not only for NREL but the Department of Energy policy as well. You can imagine how frustrating this is for ordinary Iranian-Americans here.

Rob Prince: Is there anything that can be done about it? Are there any ways to counter these practices, protest them, that NIAC, the National Iranian-American Council has found effective?

Kevin Amirehsani: Thank you for mentioning NIAC (the Natinal Iranian-American Council). We are in the process of speaking to local Congressional offices and lobbying around this issue, if not for a legislative fix, at least to have hearing on Capitol Hill bringing this stuff to light.

You can imagine, though, a lot of these individuals are in the process of their immigration paperwork, they are not yet green card holders, not yet U.S. citizens. Their number one fear is jeopardizing their status. There have been cases of U.S. C.I.S. using stuff like this in the past against applicants, so just to get this info – it took a lot of work.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Nothing has changed.

Kevin Amirehsani: Not a whole lot has changed I would say.

The other broad issue is visa stuff.

Across a whole range of visa issues Iranian students and workers tend to suffer the most.

Lot’s of Iranian students and workers are given only single entry visas whereas many of their colleagues from other nations are given multiple entry visas. What this means is that they can’t leave the country. Well they can leave the country but they would have to re-appl for a visa which is often not given. So they are essentially stuck here for two, three – in some cases – five, six years without seeing their family.

There is a way for most other nationalities – there are what are called visa re-validation measures. Four countries’ nationals are not allowed these re-validation measures which would mean you could (if based in Canada) go to Canada for thirty days, see your family, see your wife, see your kids if they are abroad, come back to the states and do your job.

Iranians are not given that opportunity.

Rob Prince: What are the other countries?

Kevin Amirehsani: Syria is one of them, I believe Somalia.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Libya most probably.

Rob Prince: These are the issues that your group, NIAC, is dealing with, Iranian-Americans here in Colorado who are eminently qualified to work and live here have all kinds of problems getting jobs, getting visas, and their lives are put under considerable stress. Life in America is a big question mark for them living with the tension really knowing whether or not they have a future here. Such a difficult position to be in to put it mildly and completely unjustified and unnecessary I might add.

End Part Two – To Be Continued.

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