Thursday, May 16, 2019

Book Excerpt: What Happens to Immigrants Accused of Backing the MEK?

John Bolton with MEK leader. Photo: Sipa USA via AP
Recent coverage in the New York Times and other media has highlighted the connection between U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and a radical Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Many U.S. political figures have been associated with the group over the years, even though the U.S. government listed it as terrorist organization from 1999 to 2012. Apparently none of these political figures have suffered any consequences for their friendship with the MEK, which pays very high speaking fees. But what happens to immigrants accused of MEK ties?

We deal with this question in chapter 8 of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, “Are Immigrants a Threat?”

U.S. immigration officials detained the Mirmehdi brothers, four Iranians living in Southern California, for nearly four years, claiming they were members of a terrorist group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Two of the brothers had attended a June 1997 demonstration in Denver organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR), a coalition linked to the MEK. It wasn’t until four months later, in October 1997, that the State Department added the MEK to its list of terrorist organizations.

The NCR continued to enjoy the support of at least two hundred members of the U.S. Congress, even after the State Department added the coalition to the terrorist list in 1999, claiming it was another name for the MEK. When the NCR held a rally in front of the United Nations in New York in September 2000, Missouri’s two Republican senators sent a written statement of solidarity that was read aloud to the crowd. One of the two senators was John Ashcroft, who became attorney general in 2002 and fought to block the Mirmehdi brothers’ release on bond. A Justice Department spokesperson later claimed Ashcroft’s statement of solidarity did not “intend to endorse any organization.”

The Mirmehdi brothers were finally released in March 2005, a month after Ashcroft left office and as their case began to draw wider media attention. “This shouldn’t happen in the United States,” Mostafa Mirmehdi said of his family’s ordeal. “If it took place in Iran, I would expect it, but I came here for freedom.”

[We’re occasionally posting excerpts from the second edition of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers. You can order here or from your favorite bookseller.]

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