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No California Reunion for Iranian Visitors

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Northern California, it's still not clear why U.S. customs officials prevented a group of Iranians from entering the country late last week. About 80 Iranian citizens had hoped to spend the weekend attending a college reunion outside San Francisco. But when they arrived at the airport, authorities revoked at least some of their tourist visas and told the Iranians to go home.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

Ahmad Ganji is a 56-year-old professor of mechanical engineering at San Francisco State University. He says he had been looking forward to the fourth international reunion of an alumni group called the Sharif University of Technology Association scheduled for this past weekend in Silicon Valley.

Professor AHMAD GANJI (San Francisco State University): This is an international organization and it's just a get-together of old friends. The first one was held here because there are a lot of graduates from that university who live in the United States and they are a very educated group of people, like university professors, entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley, various places.

GONZALES: But when Ganji went to San Francisco International Airport to pick up a boyhood friend and fellow engineer, Majid Kobravi, he was informed that Kobravi's visa had been revoked and that he would be held and sent back to Iran.

That was Thursday, and by late in the week, the internet was buzzing with reports from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York of other Iranian professionals who were refused entry into the United States. They were chemists, physicists and business owners who had received their visas and security clearances months ago from U.S. consulates in Tehran and Dubai.

The Iranians were given the option of withdrawing their visa applications or be deported, which would make them ineligible to return to the U.S. any time soon. Nancy Hormashay is an immigration attorney representing the alumni association.

Ms. NANCY HORMASHAY (Defense counsel): All we know is that 120 people had been issued visas after clearing all their background checks. They were allowed to board the plane. Why didn't they tell these people in Europe, where they were in transit, that they were not going to be allowed into the United States? They allowed them to travel another 11 hours to the United States to be refused admission in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Chicago. This is shameful.

GONZALES: A spokeswoman for the State Department would not confirm the number of Iranians denied entry. She offered little comment, except to say “each application for a visa is adjudicated on a case by case basis. Individual visa records are confidential, and therefore we are unable to provide additional information on these cases.”

The reunion of the Sharif University of Technology Association went on as scheduled, minus the 80 who had been detained. And those who did attend blamed the growing political tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.