Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Gay Iranian American faces down anti-immigrant forces

By Paul Canning

A gay 'illegal' Iranian-American, described in some news reports as "a Muslim illegal immigrant", was arrested then released today at a protest at Senator John McCain's Tuscon, Arizona office against that state's 'papers please' immigration law.

The protesters walked into McCain’s office just before noon and sat in the lobby.

The law has been the source of furious debate in the United States. It aims to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. It criminalises the failure to carry immigration documents and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

McCain, facing a battle to retain his Senate seat from a right-wing Republican candidate, has supported the law despite his previous support for immigration reform. President Obama has criticised the bill and its passage has revitilised the cause of immigration reform - this time including support for LGBT bi-national couples - and it has been taken up as a priority in Congress.

Mohammad Abdollahi from Michigan has been in the United States since the age of 3 but due to an error in processing an immigration form - the family paid $20 less than required - their application to stay in the US was rejected. Instead of returning to Iran, Abdollahi’s family chose to remain in the US - illegally.

The protest at McCain's office is, says the New York Times, "the first time students have directly risked deportation in an effort to prompt Congress to take up a bill that would benefit illegal immigrant youths."

Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality, which has worked for LGBT Iranian asylum seekers, says Abdollahi’s actions put him in “quite a bit of jeopardy.”

Ralls said that his group has worked with many LGBT Iranian asylum seekers, but Abdollahi is in a circumstance many undocumented gay youth find themselves in. In order to seek asylum from the risk of death or oppression, they must apply within one year of entering the US border. “That’s a tough hill for young people to climb,” Ralls notes.

Immigration officials said they were seeking custody of Abdollahi after their cases are completed with law enforcement. One student was not detained because he is a permanent US resident.

Once in custody - which could occur today - immigration officials will determine if the students are in the country illegally. If so, officials will make a custody determination, which could range from a release and a notice to appear in court to a supervised release program. Immigration proceedings would follow.

A lawyer representing the students said she expected them to be put in immigration detention.

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