because I was born in Iran
I wasn't denied re-entry to my adopted home because
I had done something wrong
By Tavana Sepid
April 17, 2004
Let me warn you upfront that I am not a writer, nor have I ever
had ambitions of the sort, but I have reached a point where I
need to break my silence with a giant scream from the bottom
of my lungs. Otherwise, I am afraid I am going to suffocate.
Until two years ago I lived in the United States.
For the past two years I have been forced to try to "live" in
Europe. I put "live" in quotation marks because it hasn't
been a life. Or at the most it's been a life in hell. Let me explain:
In the mid -90s I moved to the US to go to college
with the hope that I subsequently will get a job and remain there.
Up until then
I had been very unhappily living in Europe. I cannot logically
explain why there was always a constant feeling of unease deep
inside me. A feeling of not belonging; of a hopelessness of a prisoner
with tied hands.
This information is only so far relevant as it
begins to explain the reason why I, at a very young age, grabbed
the first opportunity to move thousands of miles away from my beloved
family to a country where I did not know a single soul. At this
point, I think I should mention that my family left Iran when I
was very young. Even though my feelings for Iran remain strong,
up until the US became a home I remained "homeless."
Moving to the US completely changed me as an individual.
The introvert, melancholic young girl, started to bloom in an environment
sets no limits to progress. As a result I became optimistic and
ambitious. I finished my college education, and obtained a position
in a reputable firm in my field. The fact that my employers agreed
to sponsor and support my business visa was a great encouragement
and confirmed my belief in value of the multicultural melting
I suddenly found myself living in the city I loved
with friends I valued and loved immensely. Years passed, and the
not only the home I'd ever known, but also the place I had
lived in the longest.
Then, all of a sudden two years ago, one day when
I was at work I receive a phone call from my brother telling me
that my mother
had to undergo an emergency operation, and that the doctors
didn't know if she would survive.
I am sure you all can imaging how I felt when I
received this news, and how the rest of the day I moved around
like a zombie.
left work to go to my travel-agent and book a last minute ticket
for the first flight the next morning. At that moment the only
thought going through my mind was that I should get to my mom
before it was too late.
So it's obvious that I packed and left the apartment
in such a hurry that I hardly had time
sudden disappearance, let alone farewells.
I didn't know, then, the extent of the tragedy of
that horrible day. There was no way for me to know that it might
very last day in the USA. I COULDN'T know that I would
by a system
of government I had put so much trust in.
Basically, I left that night with a small bag of
my basic necessities never to return. This might sound familiar
to those of you
who had to leave their homes overnight to save their
a tyrannical regime, but these things are not supposed
to happen to people living in a supposedly "civilized"
I wasn't denied re-entry because I had done something
wrong, not even because I was associated with anyone who had
done some thing wrong. The only reason was because I was born
me underline the fact that I am an EU-citizen. But
After my mother started to slowly recover and to
my grateful amazement the danger started to pass, I began to make
arrangements for my
return to the US. This would normally be a routine procedure,
a matter of 1/2 hour at the most, as I had all the necessary approved
There was no way for me to know that they would take
all my original papers and hand me back my passport and announce
to the new regulations imposed by the Department of State they
would have to carry out a background check on me before they
could issue a visa. A background check that would take INDEFINITELY.
Needless to say that as a result, I lost my job,
had to have my friends go over to my apartment, pack my belongings,
put them in
the storage somewhere until I knew more, and give up my apartment.
Two years later I am still trying to recover
from the financial damage this whole thing has caused me,
but believe me that remains
minuscule compared to the psychological and emotional damage.
More than two years have passed and my belonging still remain
in a storage
somewhere in Manhattan collecting dust.
As if this wasn't enough...
After struggling with depression and trying to somehow
find my balance again, in January of this year I re-collected all
courage and energy to contact the US-Embassy again to tell
them that after
two years the least I deserve is a definite response.
them that by now the business visa had become completely
irrelevant, since soon after it became clear that there was no
would ever return to the US, I lost my position.
All I was
asking the consul was to first tell me officially that
I have been denied
a visa, and then tell me if I could ever hope to go back
and get my belongings. You see, my first case was never closed...
never been officially rejected.
I was told that I hadn't been denied a visa; that
there had just been a problem with the new system. I shouldn't
ask what had happened as they wouldn't be able to give me
an answer. However, of course what had happened to me was horrible
. I could immediately apply for a tourist visa, and this time
there would be no problem.
"But why would I need to apply for a tourist
visa?" I asked. "I
am an EU citizen. I thought I would benefit from the Visa-waver
The response I got was even more ridiculous. I was
told that because of my first visa application and the subsequent
results, my name
was in all the computers and that I would be deported at my port
of entry if I tried to travel into the US without a visa.
I was told that for my tourist visa they would have to carry
out another background check on me, and that this time it would
a maximum of eight weeks.
Yeah right! 8 weeks. It's been more than ten weeks
again. No sign, whatsoever. It's deja vu.
The worst thing is that they made me hope, and I
was naive enough to believe them.
The US government pulled away
the ground from underneath my feet just at the moment I was learning
to walk. For the past two years
I have been "living" neither here nor there. I don't
know if I could explain in word how it feels. The fact that you
want to step out of your skin and dissolve.
I detest the victim's
role. I am not writing this because I want you to feel sorry
That's why, over here nobody except for my
immediate family knows what's happened. I hate to talk about it.
As if I am ashamed of having put my trust in something that turned
Don't get me wrong, I am not glorifying the US,
especially not after this experience. But when a place becomes
it remains your home with its good and its bad.
The disappointment and disillusion has left a bitter
after taste, and before I start to completely withdraw into myself
again I had
to get this off my chest:
All you Iranian-Americans, and all American citizens
with an immigration background, I hope my story gives you some
food for thought. You
with your rights to vote have the power and the duty to restore
and rectify not only your country's image but its essence.
wish you the best of luck!
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