Editors Note: The middle eastern communities of San Diego, and throughout our country, have had to endure dramatic changes, respond to increased scrutiny, and have had to deal with suffocating xenophobic fears, from an America that has had to learn how to deal with a new enemy terrorism.
These dramatic changes have caught these communities off guard! Primarily middle eastern communities are law abiding, U.S. citizens, who are trying to live the American dream. Now, they find themselves in an unattainable position of trying to respond to fears of terrorism. In this effort to respond, the Iranian-American community of San Diego turned to La Prensa San Diego recognizing that the Mexican American community has, and is, dealing with many of these issues of immigration, racism, profiling, and in dealing with civil, human, and constitutional rights issues.
Toward this end we have dialogued with some of the leadership of the Iranian-American community and shared common issues. And much like when the publisher, Daniel Muñoz, Sr., started La Prensa San Diego 27 years ago where he saw the great need to communicate, we advised this leadership to communicate not only amongst themselves but with the other communities.
And, much like the Chicano community of the 60’s and 70’s, the Iranian-American community of San Diego does not have their own media through which to foster this communication. And since many of the issues, in particular the changes in immigration law, civil and constitutional rights in the name of Homeland Security, not only impact the middle eastern communities but also impact the Hispanic community, and as an opportunity for them to put a human face to their community, we have offered them the opportunity to communicate through the pages of La Prensa San Diego.
We would now like to introduce and welcome the first biweekly column of “La Prensa Persa,” (The Persian Press), which we will publish as long as the Iranian-American community feels the need or until the day they have their own local newspaper.
Edited from article by: Payam Mohseni
December 23, 2002
This is the story of INS detainees who touched my life through their stories of hardship and pain. The impression that their teary and pleading looks left in me will never be erased from my mind as a person and as their lawyer. This is the story they imparted me with to tell you, you who truly cares about the welfare of our fellow human beings and the inviolable civil rights that should be highly safeguarded in our society.
It was Sunday morning, December 22, 2002. Families and news cameras were outside when I arrived at the Otay Mesa INS detention facility in San Diego, CA. We were led upstairs and then down the almost freezing-cold hallways to the chamber that held all the detainees. It was like a scene from a movie: a glass wall separated the two worlds. The detainees were seated behind the glass panes speaking with their families when we arrived to interview them.
They were very excited since they had not been able to communicate with the outside world for a long time, and thought that no one would help. They had been waiting to tell us their story. I was able to interview three Iranians, an Iraqi, and a Syrian. Although each had different stories to tell, there was a common thread that tied them all together.
First, none of them had received notices to appear to register with the INS. Not a requirement, they had all voluntarily gone to the INS just as a precautionary step. They were legally exempt from deportation.
Second, the officers did not explain anything to the detainees as to what was happening, why it was happening, and what the procedures thereafter would be. A few were told not to worry because the judge would release them in less than 72 hours, but here they were speaking with me in jail a week later.
Third, they were all from the San Francisco Bay Area but had been transported around the country. Boarded unto jets, they went from the SF Bay Area to Arizona, then Colorado, back to Oakland, then Bakersfield and finally San Diego. Throughout the travels, they were not told the destination until they actually landed. This continuous transport was extremely consequential to the services the detainees were able to receive. The detainees have rights to use the phone to call a family member and an attorney, and they also have the right to receive medical attention (a few of the detainees were ill). However, none of these basic rights were given to them with the explanation that they were “in transit”. The ill detainees were not treated by a doctor and did not receive medication either.
Fourth, they were handcuffed and then shackled with chains from around their feet connecting to their handcuffs. This was on them for hours without end while they were held in rooms or were being transported. Eating was a very difficult experience for them.
Fifth, none of them had received court date hearings or been given a bail amount. This is very difficult to handle legally, as they are not in the legal system so an attorney could serve them efficiently and justly.
Sixth, they all reiterated the strategy of sleep deprivation. They would be in offices during the day till 1AM waiting to be interviewed or to fill out forms. Then they would be woken up at 4AM to be transported again. Lack of sleep was their most pressing concern that destroyed their short-term memory and increased stress.
Seventh, facilities were of poor quality or misused. They were forced to sleep on concrete floors even though rooms with beds were available. There was always an open toilet in the middle of the room that was usually clogged and unsanitary. Blankets were not provided at times even though the detainees requested them. There was an incident where toilet paper was used for insulation from the cold. The detainees were able to take a shower only once last week, vending machines for food were provided but the detainees were not allowed to use their money to purchase food, and some of the food that they were served had passed their expiration dates.
Lastly, they were all harassed verbally with extreme profanity and ethnic slurs relating to their Middle Eastern origin. Some were even described as downright “scary”, such as a man in the San Diego detention camp, the place they had been taken before the CCA, who smoked a big cigar behind his desk in the facility and made continuous insulting slurs to the detainees.
I knew that this was not the only message they would want me to tell you. They were not just requesting blankets and medication, but hoping for the community to save them and to speak out.
On my part, I have to tell you that I am very ashamed! It is not acceptable if our government violates its own laws written in the US Constitution. If it breaks one law, there will always be a possibility that it will break another one as well. I am also upset at the Iranian-American community for not being more politically organized and not participating in the community to stop these events from happening.
A couple of the Iranian detainees had left Iran because of political injustices only to end up under the same kind of persecution in the United States. This comment made me question why so many Iranians in the US are apolitical. I know that most discuss politics a lot, but many never act on what they say. How can we defend the rights that we are entitled to if no one wants to deal with politics? How one criticizes the government in Iran and leaves, but does not care about the importance of “democracy” and “accountability. Otherwise, in my opinion, they would be undermining the basis of democracy itself.
But many of the students’ situation is also due to the parents. Many parents will not let their sons and daughters get involved in politics. Just know that such an act in itself is political as it takes away all of the power that our community could have had in this country! There are innocent people in jail right now, and there are laws in place that ensures the arrest of such people that can apply to all ethnicities.
Articles and information compiled by Ramin Moshiri, President of the Association of Iranian American Professionals (AIAP). He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org