Los Angeles (AFP) – Members of California’s large Iranian-American community expressed shock and disbelief on Monday at President Donald Trump’s travel ban, saying it would tear families apart and tarnish America’s image abroad.
“It’s affecting everybody from the community because everybody has family and friends that have been coming back and forth from Europe and all over the world to America,” said Alex Helmi, sitting in his carpet store in Westwood, an upmarket Los Angeles neighborhood dubbed “Tehrangeles.”
An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Iranians live in southern California, many of them in “Tehrangeles,” and Trump’s executive order has had a chilling effect on the community.
Farhad Besharati, who runs a travel agency along Westwood Boulevard, where almost all the signs above the shops are in Persian, said his phone has not stopped ringing since Trump’s order came into effect on Friday.
“We had a disaster in the last couple of days,” he said. “People are not able to come back.
“We have tried to explain that this is a temporary measure but they say that 90 days is not temporary, they say ‘we’re gonna lose the lives we have here’.”
He said the spouse of one of his clients had traveled to Iran to see family and had been unable to return.
“He doesn’t know if his wife can come back and they have children. It’s tragic,” Besharati said.
He said he had also received calls from students pleading for his help but had little to offer them in terms of hope or assistance.
“One of them finally arrived yesterday but another one was not allowed to board her plane,” he said.
Leila, who did not want her family name to be used, said she still shudders at the thought that her father, who arrived back in Los Angeles just after Trump signed his decree Friday afternoon, could have been among those detained at the airport or deported.
“He said ‘I think they shut the doors after me’,” she recounted as she shopped for groceries.
She said an 82-year-old woman in a wheelchair had not been as lucky as her dad and was deported back to Iran.
“What is the danger of letting in a grandma that came to visit her children?” the 45-year-old angrily said.
She added that she knew of numerous others Iranians affected by the decree, including a woman who was traveling to Los Angeles for her mother’s funeral and another whose father was undergoing heart surgery.
– Fear leaving the country –
Ali, 42, who has dual Iranian-American citizenship and also did not want to give his last name for fear of attracting the attention of US authorities, said he now fears leaving the country and not being allowed back in.
“I wanted to go for the Persian New Year to visit my family but now I don’t know,” he said, adding that he also feared a backlash from the Iranian government against dual nationals like him.
Many of those interviewed said Trump’s actions may play well among some voters, but will harm the country’s standing on the world stage and deter people from traveling to the United States, even for tourism.
They also note that no Iranians have been implicated in any recent terror attacks on US soil, and that countries whose nationals were involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks — like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon or Egypt — were not affected by Trump’s order.
The countries included in the ban are Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
Ali said it was ironic that many recent attacks on US soil were homegrown, and pointed to the January 6 deadly assault at a Florida airport by a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran that killed five people.
But despite all the outrage at Trump’s actions, Besharati said the travel ban could help disrupt the financing of terror networks such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
“There are rich people coming from Iran with millions or billions of dollars and they spend $500,000 and get a Green Card,” he claimed. “These are not regular people who come for education or work.
“These are the people protecting Syria and Hezbollah.”
Helmi said while he understands that strict vetting measures are needed to ward off those intent on inflicting harm to America, he hoped democratic principles would prevail.
“America is the land of freedom,” he said. “All the religions here live together and respect each other and respect democracy.”