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November 19, 2003

 Life 
Sleep well, the U.S. is safer now!**
Hazhir Rahmandad  [info|posts]

registration.gif The JFK Federal building in Boston is a 24-floor high-rise which handles most of the federal issues in Massachusetts, from immigration to war veterans' affairs. When I arrived at the building at 9:10 this morning, the first thing I noticed was the long line of people waiting for security check so that they can get in. There were over 130 people in front of me, yet I decided to stay in the line; after all I was there for my annual special registration and with a short window of 10 days, I preferred to get done with it today. The single security guard and monitoring system took half a minute, while 130 were waiting, to let one person in, so I finally got into the building at 10:15, wondering why they have not removed this obvious bottleneck since my last year visit!

Special registration started last October, when the U.S. government decided to register and track any male individual over 16 years old born in 11 countries, to make sure they don't create any security threat inside the U.S. Later on, the number of countries on the list expanded to over 30, mainly Muslim countries.

The process includes a registration interview starting in a specific period (for Iranians it was last November-December), or upon your arrival into the U.S., followed by annual re-registration interviews which should be in a 10 day period following the anniversary of initial registration. Each individual is expected to show up at the registration office in the given period with their complete travel/visa/residence documents and report to the authorities about who they are, what they do, their contacts, etc. Each person is also pictured and fingerprinted and the data is added to a central database.

The designated room for special registration on the 17th floor had a waiting area with four chairs of which I took the last empty one. Two guys, whom later I discovered to be Iranian, and a lady were also waiting in the room. A few minutes later somebody came out of the room, sighed on my sight, and took my passport in. The lady sitting next to me said that she is a lawyer and asked the guy for some information about her client. I couldn't follow her words exactly when she moved to the adjacent room, but it seemed that her client, an Iranian guy, had missed his registration deadline after entrance into the U.S., and therefore had been arrested upon showing up for registration later! This was a sad and familiar scenario that repeated for hundreds of people in California last year.

I waited for what I thought was a long time before the door opened and two people who had registered came out. But this was just the beginning of a two-and-half-hour waiting before two fellow Iranian guys were done with their re-registration, and then it was my turn! In the meantime, I was soon bored with the book I was reading, so I took some time chatting with an Egyptian guy and his American fiancée who was behind me in the line for the registration. The guy insisted that as a Muslim I had to learn Arabic well and read Quran in Arabic, reminding me of a phrase on importance of learning Arabic from the Iranian constitution, which was on the cover of our highschool learning basic Arabic books! Though amused, I didn't continue the futile argument with the guy, especially seeing his girlfriend rolling her eyes on his remarks. Another Iranian guy who had entered the room by then was surprised by hearing these remarks.

Anyway, by 12:50, it was my time to enter the room. I had already removed all my credit cards, club memberships, and business cards out of my wallet, to avoid the experience of the last year when the officer went through all of them one by one and entered any number found into their database! But this time since they already had those data on the database, the guy skipped most of the questions and just confirmed my old answers. In fact the only reason for very long registration times appeared to be the negative learning curve of the INS personnel: this time the guy not only didn't know the software he was working with, but also was typing by single fingers! Nevertheless, we collaborated together to make the process as fast as possible: I anticipated his questions and told him that all the answers remain the same. Hungry, tired, and de-motivated, he forgot putting me on the oath at the beginning of the interview! Finally, I got off by 1:20, soon enough to inform my friends that I am back before the deadline I had set (I had told them to contact an attorney if I am not back by 2p.m.); the officer took off to have a quick lunch, and America got safer than ever! Amen.

* For more information on special registration, look at the NIAC's recent advisory. Anybody born in Iran who is not a U.S. citizen or a greencard holder, may be subject to special registration and failing to do it on time can potentially result in his deportation.

** On December 2nd the special registration was suspended, as undersecretary of border security describes, to "[It] will allow us to focus our efforts on the implementation of US-VISIT while preserving our ability to interview some visitors when necessary.” see more details at: http://www.niacouncil.org/pressreleases/press138.asp

Comments
Senior Grad at November 19, 2003 09:15 AM [permalink]:

This was a good one, albeit a sad story...

Somayeh Sadat at November 19, 2003 09:23 AM [permalink]:

Sometimes it's good to be a woman;)
But seriously, it's so sad. I wonder if this is considered a human rights issue, and if so, who cares what's happening in US!

Senior Grad at November 19, 2003 09:53 AM [permalink]:

I should be more specific in my comment: A painstakingly meticulous report ("[it] took half a minute..."), factual, with touches of humor. A question though, to complete the picture: Was the fiancee wearing hijab? :-)

hazhir at November 19, 2003 10:16 AM [permalink]:

I thought I touched upon that indirectly: "his girlfriend rolling her eyes on his remarks". She was a good looking and cheerful american girl without any hijab. The guy also looked handsome and rich, so one can't drive correlations between religeon and looks from this experience.

Senior Grad at November 19, 2003 11:25 AM [permalink]:

Okay, so he was basically advertising *his* language, not the language of Koran. Right? :-)

I myself would love to learn (to speak) Arabic, among many other languages, if it wasn't so damn hard: ZARABA, ZARABAA, ZARABOO ... all the way to ZARABNAA, and that's only the simple past tense!

Senior Grad at November 19, 2003 12:49 PM [permalink]:

Une pensée après-coup:

Next time you run into such a self-contradicting creature inviting you to the *form* of religion, himself blatantly ignoring the *content* of it, you tell him: "And I think you should marry your good-looking cheerful American girlfriend soon, so you won't have to go through these hassles next year." :-)

P.S. Without any hijab whatsoever? Mmmm! How nice. ;-)

Iman Aghilian at November 19, 2003 03:03 PM [permalink]:


Thanks Hazhir for reminding me of the ordeal. I don't remember when I did my interview last year. Probably they gave me a sheet or something with the date on which I have to dig out. Let's see: Taxi to the Greyhound bus station, bus ride to Buffalo, walking from Buffalo's bus station to the INS(or USICSS or whatever it is called now), the ordeal, walking back, taking the bus back to Rochester, taking a taxi back to school and life goes on.

A Reader at November 19, 2003 03:29 PM [permalink]:

Have you ever heard that someone (a student I mean) been deported from US or even Canada?

Golbarg at November 19, 2003 05:01 PM [permalink]:

As a Iranian, I don't know, why you have been so touched with this story. As far as I remember, this would happen to us more often, almost in every administrative office in Iran. Have you ever been to "edare-ye gozarnaame", "nezaam vazifeh" (for this one I have my husband's experience), ministry of higher education, etc.
First of all, they did not invited us to come here and we are welcome to go back anytime. Secoundly, any country has their own rules, stupid or not, it should be practiced.
And at last, U.S. or Canada make rules for safty of their *own citizens* not for Iranians! I am not saying that we should not try to make these absurd procedures less harmful (and in fact, I think we should state our ideas loudly and make our voice to be heard) but now that we are "khodemoon!!!", come on man!!! where is your memory!

Yaser at November 19, 2003 06:59 PM [permalink]:

Hazhir, your point is granted. However just adding to Golbarg's comments, there is one more difference between Iran and US. In US, you wait in the line for few hours and then you know you will get in. I remember once I was trying to buy a train ticket in Iran. I went to the line at 6 am. Regardless of how many people skipped the line, at around 10 am, some people decided to not use the door and climb over the fences! Basically all I had waited in the line was wasted. The line disappeared in a moment. So I had to give up going home that day.

A Reader at November 19, 2003 07:44 PM [permalink]:

Dear Golberg,

You sadi, "they did not invited us to come here and we are welcome to go back anytime. Secoundly, any country has their own rules, stupid or not, it should be practiced."

I beg to differ. When you are talking about a rule, it should be run for everyone no matter where he/she comes from. When they do it with Iranians, they should do it for others too. If you think this is a RULE which should be applied for just people who have born in Midle East or other doomed country in their list, this is not a rule. This is racisim. A RULE, I repeat, A "RULE"
is based upon rational ideas not RACISIM.

B.....m at November 19, 2003 07:45 PM [permalink]:

Golbarg,
There's also another difference between the long lines of Iranian governmental offices and the ones in the U.S. In Iran you may have to stand in a line for more than few hours just to get a signature, but you know you should stand there (and sometimes bribe the official), independent of how you look and who your parents are (well, of course there are exceptions, but I am talking about the general public). But in the U.S. you have to wait in the lines just because the way you look and your place of birth. The problem in Iran is the inefficiency of the bureaucratic system; in the U.S. it is ethnical discrimination.
Sometime after the American Civil war, African-Americans got the chance to immigrate back to Africa (in particular that’s how Liberia was formed). Would you accept a racist argument like this: “Stupid or not our country has the law that a Negro shouldn’t have the same rights as a white (they shouldn’t vote, they shouldn’t get the same salary, and, in a bus, they should offer their seats to whites, ….), and the laws of any country should be respected; if they’re not happy they can go back to Africa”? Discrimination (racial, ethnical, lingual… ) is a moral wrong, not a bureaucratic failure.

Golbarg at November 19, 2003 08:53 PM [permalink]:

"When you are talking about a rule, it should be run for everyone no matter where he/she comes from."

Maybe this type of rules are implemented in heaven but there is no state on the planet whose policy on "issueing visitor visa" is "for everyone no matter where he/she comes from." If you do not believe this, name a country and I list rules in that state which is implemented based on the "nationality" of people.


Dear B.....m

You said "...but you know you should stand there (and sometimes bribe the official), independent of how you look and who your parents are ...". In fact, in the IRAN that I lived it was really important who your parents are, and at least for me (as a girl) it was more important how I looked. I had to tighten my Hejab, remove every makeup etc. and try to become their promoted stereotype.

You said "The problem in Iran is the inefficiency of the bureaucratic system; in the U.S. it is ethnical discrimination." I belive the problem in Iran is ethnical, religious, visual, economical and cultural discrimination. I think if you do not agree with this then there is a huge difference between our experience of living under the veil!

And about the last comment that you made: African Americans were AMERICAN CITIZENS, and WE ARE NOT.


Shepherd of a Long-Horn Cattle at November 19, 2003 10:49 PM [permalink]:

I totally agree with Golbarg. You get discrimination of every form in Iran, that's one of the main reasons behind public disconent.

Visa and Immigration rules are obvisouly not the same for people around the world, quite the opposite, it depends on the person's country of origin, passport, job, reason for travel and so on. We were all aware of the fact that as Iranians we would have a hard time and a little chance getting the US visa, and if we get, we would have to follow special rules. isn't it? Some of you sound like you expected to be treated like a US citizen.

I guess we all know why we're being treated this way. It's no secret. Our countries are politically regarded as enemies. The Iranian government (or at least part of it) officially denounce the US all the time and threaten its security and interests, at least in words. US government does the same to Iran. And yet we - as Iranians - still get the chance to travel or study in the US, and return home; and they're only asking us to register our name every year and follow the (strict) rules . During our war with Iraq, do you think an Iraqi citizen would have had the chance to get a visa and travel or study in Iran, and then return to Iraq? Never ever. (not to mention an Israeli).

I don't really want to sound selfish and I'm not a recist, but what really annoys me, is that these are Arabs who deserve all these tough inspections and rules, because all the recent problems have been caused by people from Arab countries. But sadly, we are now in the same situation as they are, just because some idiots in the Iranian government talk to much nonsense.

I'm not saying that there is no discrimination in the US, but it's quite normal for countries to differentiate between foes and friends.

yahya at November 19, 2003 11:21 PM [permalink]:

Shepherd of a long-horn cattle, you said "During our war with Iraq, do you think an Iraqi citizen would have had the chance to get a visa and travel or study in Iran, and then return to Iraq? Never ever."

I want to remind you that 1 million Iraqis and 3 millions Afghanis have been to Iran as refugees. Because they were refugees they were contributing very little to Iran's economy, but still they were tolerated for two decades. Iran was the highest number of refugees for the past two decades.

yahya at November 19, 2003 11:33 PM [permalink]:

I accept the fact that the laws for non-citizens and citizens can be different. Also I believe that situation in Iran is worse. But the point is neigher of these should prevent us from raising awareness among Americans to prevent further discrimination. Just registration by itself is not a big deal, but when you look at in combination of propaganda against Middle Easterners in the media and other mistreatments, you see that registration is used to demonize Middle Easterners even further. That is why I think we have to resist against all type of actions of the government that can mark us as different people and demonize us.

Another point is if we don't learn how to defend our human rights under a democratic system here, where are we going to learn and practice it? In Iran?!

B.....m at November 20, 2003 01:30 AM [permalink]:

Hi Golbarg,
Even if I had very different experiences in Iran from what you had, I should have been deaf and blind not to observe the sexism and racism in Iran. Maybe I am wrong to say that there’s not much racism in the line ups in Iran (but still I believe racism is not a big issue in nezAm vazifeh), but my point is that the state of racism in Iran should not make Iranians modest in their demand to get recognition of their rights. A government should legitimize racism for neither its citizens nor the foreigners to its country (would you find it acceptable if the Iranian government passes a law against African Americans or Irish Americans?). As a Canadian citizen, I may enter the U.S. with no need to visas, but, unlike Canadians with European origins, I get questioned and finger-printed at the border, because I was born and raised in the Middle East. If you don’t consider this an unacceptable form of racism, then there’s not much common ground for us to understand each other’s arguments.
Trying to defend the U.S. government on the basis of the enmity of Iranian and American governments, may get the same structure as a defense of the Nazi’s actions against Polish Jews on the grounds of the enmity of the two governments(of course this is an out-of-scales comparison).
By the way, I’ve never experienced living under the veil.

Emad at November 20, 2003 02:32 AM [permalink]:

Vow!
Lots of old freinds! This is an unforgetable night.
Good to see you all again guys!

Senior Grad at November 20, 2003 12:01 PM [permalink]:

B.....m,

It seems that you're mixing up some concepts here. Without trying to take a pro- or anti-American stand, or any stand at all for that matter, I'd just like to clarify something here: Setting up rules for certain individuals does is not tantamount to racism or even discrimination.

If you deprive someone of some of their *rights*, based on their race, color of skin, ethnicity, the country of origin, or whatever else then it can is called racism. I agree that in Iran we are not discriminated against based on the color of our skin, but we are constantly *discriminated* against based on a whole variety of other things. Examples abound, but let me remind you of one: If you're not Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian, and you apply for a government job, then you can be deprived of your *right* to earn a living based on whether you (choose to pretend to) pray and fast or not. Or you may be deprived of a position you deserve to have based on *irrelevant* criteria such as whether you prefer happy bright colored shirts to dark gloomy ones, or based on how often you shave your face (if you're male).

Iranians tend to have a knack for easily getting offended. I was personally offended whenever I was asked to be fingerprinted. To me it is as ridiculous as being offended when your neighbor locks his porch door. Requiring individuals from certain suspected countries to register annually, is going to waste one precious day of our year, but it does not deprive us of our *right*s.

Senior Grad at November 20, 2003 12:04 PM [permalink]:

Important correction:

I was NEVER offended when fingerprinted. :-)

Senior Grad at November 20, 2003 12:23 PM [permalink]:

An anecdote:

Back in my early years of American experience, I noticed that in trial of world-class criminals, such as serial killers who had raped, tortured, killed, and finally chopped their victims into pieces, the convicts showed up in court in formal attire, with clean shaved faces and their hair well-coifed. So I wondered -loudly, as it is my habit- how come these criminals are treated with so much respect! My American friend told me it was because at least before they're found guilty their appearance should not in any way affect the final verdict of the court.

stan at November 20, 2003 12:44 PM [permalink]:

does anyone know if a similar process (keeping an updated database on new Iranian immigrants) is being followed in Canada?

negar at November 20, 2003 05:41 PM [permalink]:

Dear Golbarg,
I feel you are somehow advocating the "boghz e mo'avie" kind of a reasoning.[ yeah, maybe broadly so].
If we don't like how it was in iran, should it imply that what happens here is flawless?
If the lines in iran are long, we are upset about that too.
i don' t see why Hazhir gave you the impression that he has forgotten about how bad it was in iran.
[I, think what happens to iran, though , is not racism whereas this certainly is. ]
another point: yeah, maybe there is no country in the world with racially fare laws. Does this justify what happens in America?

A Reader at November 20, 2003 06:26 PM [permalink]:

B...m
Well said. I agree with you. This was my point.


Golbarg at November 20, 2003 07:24 PM [permalink]:

Dear Negar,

I love my country, and I am waiting for the very first second that I am back there as soon as I am done with my studies. I guess you read only my last comment. I think that if a third person read this article, he/she may think that we are the write is from Sweden (just to name some country). It gives this impression that the writer has never been (i) humiliated by the law order forces, (ii) waited for a long time for some bureaucratic process, (iii) accused of being dangerous to society etc. in his own country. Different people may get different impressions from the very same article. So, anyway, there is no "boghz-e mo'aaviye", there is "let's be fair and not get agitated".

Dear B...m

I think you do not belong to any ethnic minority in Iran (Kord, Balouch, Arab, ... and for now let's forget Afghan refugees since they are not Iranian citizens) otherwise you could see as clear as sun in a blue sky, the implementation of many racist laws in Iran. The same thing goes with sexist laws there (as I guess that you should be "male"). So, the problem (if there is any) is beyond being blind and deaf, it is "don't want to see, don't want to listen".

A Reader at November 20, 2003 09:14 PM [permalink]:

The US is of great benefit to me personally and as a result it's security and prosperity is of great importance to me. I think lots of arabs and muslems with anti-american feelings live in the US, so protecting this country against them is necessary. In the situation that we are in, I find it very impractical not to discriminate against certain countries when we are hunting for a certain illness that is a lot more common among muslems. Of course their human rights should be respected as I believe it is ( from personal experience and from what I have heard from you. having to wait in line is certainly not a violation of human rights ).

Senior Grad at November 21, 2003 10:24 AM [permalink]:

For those of you who are confused what Golbarg and negar are talking about, let me explain that BOGHZ-E MO'AAVIEH refers, as far as I can tell, to the situation when someone does something not because of HOBB-E ALI, but because of BOGHZ-E MO'AAVIEH. Is it clear now? :-> Well, maybe it isn't.

Anyone with a better explanation? And also, could negar (or Golbarg) tell us what BOGHZ-E MO'AAVIEH has to do with the topic at hand?

Senior Grad at November 21, 2003 10:42 AM [permalink]:

Two things have been mixed up all along in these comments. B.....m hinted at it (although he fell victim to another confusion himself): First, the "bureaucratic failure" in Iran vs the situation in the US when it comes to standing in lines and government offices (Yaser provides a brilliant description of what we've all been through) AND secondly the alleged "discrimination".

As for the first issue, there is no question about how things in Iran are messed up and after 25 years of standing in lines Iranians, thanks to their rich ancient culture, have not yet succeeded in developing a sound and solid culture of standing in lines and respecting each other's time. This, and other "bureaucratic failures", have deep cultural roots and do not have much to do with what kind of government we live under. In one word, we have not yet fully left behind our traditional "tribal" past and have not yet sbsorbed notions such as "citizenship". (A Persian equivalent for the word "citizen", to the best of my knowledge, was only made in recent years. Maybe our linguistic friends can shed a light on the history of the word SHAHRVAND in its *current* usage.)

So Hazhir's frame of reference, when he bemoans about the "bottleneck", may not be the situation back in Iran. Rather, he expects *Americans* to manage things much better than they are doing during the registration process, because we've seen they're normally quite good at it. (How many times someone have you seen someone cut in line in front of you in North America?)

As for the second issue,"discrimination", I addressed that in my previous comment. Let's hear it from y'all: How do you define "discrimination" so that it is a "moral wrong"? This, I suppose, takes us back to how we define "rights", because I believe discrimination is a moral wrong when it entail depriving you of your rights. For example, if they pass a law that Middle Easterners in America cannot have more than 2 children while others can, then this could be a discrimination, although there's always gray areas, hence the institution of the court...

Vahid at November 22, 2003 08:17 PM [permalink]:

Dear Stan,

There is not such a registration process going on Canada for iranians or any other nationality.
They might have a database or something like that though.

Arash Jalali at December 3, 2003 01:19 PM [permalink]:

I was just informed about this news by a friend. Looks like you won't have to go through the same experience next year, Hajir.