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Only 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 that 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 pot.

I suddenly found myself living in the city I loved with friends I valued and loved immensely. Years passed, and the US became 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. I immediately 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 to let my friends know the reason for my 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 be my very last day in the USA. I COULDN'T know that I would be betrayed 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 lives from a tyrannical regime, but these things are not supposed to happen to people living in a supposedly "civilized" society.

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 in Iran. Let me underline the fact that I am an EU-citizen. But I'm digressing.

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 INS papers.

There was no way for me to know that they would take all my original papers and hand me back my passport and announce that according 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 my courage and energy to contact the US-Embassy again to tell them that after two years the least I deserve is a definite response.

I told them that by now the business visa had become completely irrelevant, since soon after it became clear that there was no guarantee I 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... I had 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 program."

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.

Furthermore, 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 take 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 for me.

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 out so corrupt.

Don't get me wrong, I am not glorifying the US, especially not after this experience. But when a place becomes your home, 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.

I wish you the best of luck!

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