Early in the morning on January 2, U.S. drone strikes decimated a two-car convoy near Baghdad’s International Airport in Iraq. Killed in the targeted attack was General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards elite Quds Force, as well as nine other individuals. There’s no debate over whether or not Soleimani was a heinous human being. In fact, if the CIA publicized its most-wanted terrorists list, there’s no doubt that Soleimani would get top billing. But this surprise attack raised the stakes in a region of the world that was already on edge, and that’s creating problems for Iranian-Americans who live stateside.
In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Iran warned that a retaliation is “waiting” for the U.S., putting major American cities and the Department of Homeland Security on high alert. Trump even threatened via tweet to attack Iranian cultural sites if Iran were to strike. The only Iranian response so far has been attacking bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops. Fortunately, there were no casualties, and in a January 8 address responding to the situation, Trump threatened only more sanctions, not cultural site destruction, but many still fear what could be next.
Amid all this unease and unrest, Iranians and Iranian-Americans have received unjust scrutiny. Many were being held up and questioned at multiple checkpoints along the U.S. border. In Washington state, for example, the New York Times reports that more than 60 Iranian and Iranian-American individuals were subject to multiple checks and assessments before being allowed to re-enter the United States after their holiday vacations. Some even faced 10 hours of questioning regarding their political affiliation. According to Masih Fouladi, executive director of a Muslim civil rights group, one border patrol officer, responding to an Iranian family asking why they were being questioned, said, “It’s a bad time to be an Iranain.”
No, it’s a bad time to be an American when xenophobia runs rampant. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one million Iranians-Americans live in the United States. Many Iranians fled the same oppressive theocracy that Soleimani had a hand in creating and enforcing.
On January 7, Vox’s Today Explained Podcast interviewed two Iranian-Americans who sought refuge in the U.S. in the 1980s because they “couldn’t see any future for [their] children” and wanted their children to “to grow here and have the freedom to live.” Iranians came to America for a prosperous and peaceful life, not to be held accountable for the terrorism of their home country.
And this isn’t the first time that Iranians living in America have been fearful. When President Trump announced the travel ban in 2017, it prevented many family members of Iranian-Americans from visiting the states or seeking refuge. And Trump continues to up the ante.
In his address, Trump declared, “We have sent a powerful message to terrorists: if you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people.” This rhetoric only serves to further escalate tension between the nations and continues to put a target on the back of Iranian-Americans who have lived peacefully in the U.S. for over 30 years. And they don’t deserve that over any other American citizen.
Natalie Dowzicky is a researcher a Washington D.C. think tank, a Young Voices contributor, and a cohost on the Pursuit Podcast (@ThePursuitPod) & the Pop & Locke podcast (@PopnLockePod), both produced by libertarianism.org. Follow her on Twitter @Nat_Dowzicky.