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Iranian PhD Student Detained at JFK amid Immigration Chaos

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

A Long Island PhD student from Iran has been detained at JFK for the past 24 hours following President Trump’s executive order instituting extreme vetting, her friend told The Post.

“She arrived yesterday, and she has been in detention for over 24 hours,” Mitra Vardei said, referencing her friend Vahideh Rasekhi.

“We are hearing different news," Vardei continued. "She is going to be deported, then we hear there is a ban and she won’t be deported.”

In addition to this flip-flopping, the Stony Brook woman still has no idea where her friend is being held and hasn’t heard from her since a text sent from the tarmac that read, “I have landed but can’t come.”

“We aren’t aware of her situation,” Vardei cried. “We are concerned, she was coming back from her winter vacation in Iran.”

Rasekhi was twice placed on a plane back to Iran–despite studying in Stony Brook–before lawyers got involved.

“The lawyers are trying to take her out but things have been going slowly,” Vardei said. “They called the judge and filed lawsuits. She boarded the plane to be sent back to Iran then the judge last night stopped it.”

“When we arrived yesterday 30 people came for her now 10 of us are here.”

As an exhausted and worried Vardei sat in Terminal 4, another man who made it through security detailed his 12-hour ordeal.

The 31-year-old, who declined to give his name, was born in Iran but has lived in Austin, TX for the past nine years. He had been in Iran visiting family and jumped on a plane to return to the US when he learned of the executive order.

When his plane landed at JFK, he was pulled aside with four others but was given no reasoning.

“[The agents] brought us in and weren’t friendly,” he said. “They were interviewing me telling me I’d be out in 5 minutes and asked me the same questions by several different officers–they called them ‘silly questions.'” The questions include the following: “What is your name? What is your address? What you were doing in Iran? Why did you come back to the United States?”

The 31-year-old had been detained alongside a man visiting his daughter, one student with a visa, and an elderly Sudanese woman in a wheelchair.

The man says he will return to Austin but won’t travel outside the US until he’s ready to leave permanently.

“Mr. President,” he said in conclusion, “good job for not making America great.”

President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order (EO) proposing a 90-day suspension of visas and other immigration benefits to all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. The unrealistic conditions required for discontinuing the suspension make it very likely that this EO will turn into a permanent ban. We, the undersigned academics and researchers from a variety of fields of study, backgrounds, and personal convictions, would like to voice our concern and strongly oppose this measure on three grounds:

1. This Executive Order is discriminatory. The EO unfairly targets a large group of immigrants and non-immigrants on the basis of their countries of origin, all of which are nations with a majority Muslim population. This is a major step towards implementing the stringent racial and religious profiling promised on the campaign trail. The United States is a democratic nation, and ethnic and religious profiling are in stark contrast to the values and principles we hold.

2. This Executive Order is detrimental to the national interests of the United States. The EO significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research. US research institutes host a significant number of researchers from the nations subjected to the upcoming restrictions. From Iran alone, more than 3000 students have received PhDs from American universities in the past 3 years. The proposed EO limits collaborations with researchers from these nations by restricting entry of these researchers to the US and can potentially lead to departure of many talented individuals who are current and future researchers and entrepreneurs in the US. We strongly believe the immediate and long term consequences of this EO do not serve our national interests.

3. This Executive Order imposes undue burden on members of our community. The people whose status in the United States would be reconsidered under this EO are our students, friends, colleagues, and members of our communities. The implementation of this EO will necessarily tear families apart by restricting entry for family members who live outside of the US and limiting the ability to travel for those who reside and work in the US. These restrictions would be applied to nearly all individuals from these countries, regardless of their immigration status or any other circumstances. This measure is fatally disruptive to the lives of these immigrants, their families, and the communities of which they form an integral part. It is inhumane, ineffective, and unAmerican.

These bans, as proposed, have consequences that reach beyond the scope of national security. The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.

We strongly denounce this ban and urge the President to reconsider going forward with this Executive Order.


To add your name, please send an email to [] from your academic email. The subject of your email must be one line: name, award/distinction, title, affiliation (e.g. John Doe, Nobel Laureate (Physics 1999), Professor, Harvard University)


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