Skip to comments.Iranian couple files lawsuit against NIOSH - ACLU alleges discrimination
Posted on 12/14/2004 6:32:49 AM PST by the_devils_advocate_666
A Morgantown couple fired from their jobs at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in May filed a lawsuit against the agency last week, saying they were discriminated against because of their Iranian background and Islamic faith.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari, released information about the lawsuit Monday.
According to co-counsel Robert Bastress, a WVU law professor and cooperating attorney with the ACLU, the Afsharis went to work May 5 and were told they had failed a background check. The couple was then escorted from the laboratories. Seven months later, they still do not know why they were fired.
"The Afsharis were fired without any notice, without any procedures, and without any reason," Bastress said Monday. "The Afsharis allege that they have been discriminated against because of their Iranian heritage and their Muslim faith and because of the association they've had within the Muslim community."
According to the Afsharis' complaint filed against officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parent agency of NIOSH, the Afsharis are seeking back pay and Aliakbar's reinstatement to his job as a senior fellow. The lawsuit, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, also seeks a hearing to clear the Afsharis' names.
The suit also names the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Bastress said the Afsharis came to Morgantown in 1987, when Aliakbar Afshari entered the industrial engineering doctorate program at WVU. He began working for NIOSH in 1996 as a contract worker, and his wife started a year later. The two were hired as full-time employees in 2000.
At the time they were hired, the Afsharis passed background checks as part of their employment application, Bastress said. They were fired because they failed to pass a secret background investigation that was conducted on employees from countries considered a threat to the United States, including Iran, according to a news release from the ACLU in West Virginia.
Aliakbar Afshari built equipment to study the health effects of welding and asphalt fumes, and hand and arm vibrations. Shahla Afshari, who has a master's degree in occupational health and safety engineering, worked in a laboratory that researched sensitivity to chemicals in the work place, such as allergic reactions to latex gloves.
Neither had access to classified documents or worked with banned biological or chemical toxins. Their jobs did not require a security clearance. Both are legal residents of the United States and were within a few years of attaining citizenship.
"More than anything, they want to clear their name so they can find future employment," Bastress said. "At the moment, it's extremely difficult for someone like Dr. Afshari to get employment when he has to present that he is an Iranian who has been fired by the government because he presented a security risk. They just want their life back."
CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben said Monday that she could not comment on the lawsuit. She confirmed only that the Afsharis were no longer employed by the CDC.
When reached at his home, Aliakbar Afshari declined to comment, referring The Dominion Post to the family's attorney, Allan Karlin, who also is a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.
Karlin said the loss of their jobs has been a hardship for the Afshari family. Until they were fired, the Afsharis were considered valued employees at NIOSH in Morgantown. About 30 of the Afsharis' coworkers have written letters on their behalf.
This fall, Shahla Afshari entered WVU dental school with her daughter, Azadeh, the first time a mother-daughter team has entered the school in the same year. Aliakbar continues to look for work in his field.
Karlin said that the Afsharis' firing was unfair and violated their civil rights. He said that what happened to the Afsharis should not have a place in a country founded on freedom of expression.
"The United States holds itself out as a place where individuals are treated fairly with due process of law regardless of their religion or ethnicity," he said. "The treatment of the Afsharis is inconsistent with those ideals and contrary to the image of America that we portray to the world."
Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) - http://www.alliancedefensefund.org
Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) - http://www.thomasmore.org
American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) - http://www.aclj.org
The Rutherford Institute - http://www.rutherford.org/
Stop the ACLU Coalition - http://www.stoptheaclu.org
Here are a few examples of how two of those organizations are fighting back:
Thomas More Law Center: Town of Palm Beach Pays $50,000 In Attorney Fees Apologizes To Women In Nativity Lawsuit
I thought I would see this here, I wonder what the red flag was. I thought the whole point of background checks was to weed out all the sketchy people. My bad.
I can't think of a better reason to kick their a$$es out of the country.
If he was fired, there should be at least some reason given for being a securty risk. Quite often, middle eastern names get misspelled and a similar name belonging to someone different pops up who is a real security threat. If that's the case, this guy was wronged and it needs to be fixed.
EXCUSE ME ?
They are legal residents here. Unless NIOSH can show proof that they pose a security risk, they sound guilty of discrimination. (I leave room for the fact that we don't have all the facts.)
It looks like he was on triple-secret probation!
Both are legal residents of the United States and were within a few years of attaining citizenship.<<
Sorry, "a few years away from citizenship" is not even close enough to deserve a cigar in this case. These people could be "Sleeper Cells", the ACLU should quit protecting possible terrorists.
They are legal residents here.<<
But not citizens - that's the key.
I suspect something was found in their past that made them unqualified (this ACLU press release only tells one side of the story of course).
If not however, then they were treated unfairly- and unwisely.
I believe that's the truth.
I don't like several positions that the ACLU takes, but I can't have an opinion on something that's not clear with facts (although, based on some of their positions, I'd like to think whatever they're doing is just plain evil).
NO it isn't. They have rights as legal residents
Uh, I guess you're excused.
Correct. And since we don't have all the particulars in this case, knee-jerk reactions displaying discrimination are, ignorant and uncalled-for and go against the philosophy of the conservative movement.
See post # 16
NO it isn't. They have rights as legal residents<<
So did the 911 highjackers.
Better safe than sorry with those from the ME.
What, exactly, does that mean? Too many facts missing from this story.
Yeah. You see, that was before a bunch of Muslim, Middle Eastern, Arab, Etc, Etc. I'm not really interested in the image we portray to the world. The rest of the world needs to understand that we don't have to take their crap and that they can just stay home if they don't feel respected here.
Don't care, Not interested. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the company trying to operate safely every time. EVERY SINGLE TIME. If it turns out that they were wrong, then fine, but I won't jump all over them just because the ACLU scumbags cry foul, and I won't moderate my view point just to pretend that I'm objective. I'm not. I believe in erring on the side of caution, and if some people's feelings get hurt, so be it. Safety first for our citizens. Foriegn residents come second. And a distant second at that.
The rest of the world needs to understand that we don't have to take their crap and that they can just stay home if they don't feel respected here.<<<
Along with the rest of the world, our domestic liberals, "live and let live" and "they got rights" crowd needs to understand that as well.
I agree, even if the background check only returns the fact that they are not sure if they are a threat, that is good enough for me. Innocent until proven guilty, a threat until proven secure.
So, if I don't like somebody and they just happen to be middle easterners, then I can fire them. Or better yet, this guy's a middle easterner, he must be a threat. I'm Irtanian-American, a conservative and support our president and the Patriot Act. But the Patriot Act is for the Government to apply, not for private organizations. You sound as if it doesn't matter the reason as long as they were middle easterners. If I'm wrong I apologize.
Have you ever noticed that these people don't give a damn about the rights of American citizens? No one ever sticks up for my right to live in this country (where I was born) peacefully and without fear of being blown up on an airplane or in the mall. The hell with their rights!
Yes, you're wrong. The story says that the background check, the second one, found something suspicious. Since that is all the story says, I have to give the benefit to the company because their acting in AMERICA's best interest. If their wrong, then the worst thing that can happen is they apologise, and reinstate the guy with full back pay. He'll get over it.
Remember, we didn't attack Muslims, they attacked us. When that happened the rules changed. And because of the hatred and ignorrance of some, others will be inconvenienced, and in some cases discriminated against. It's not always right, but I support a company trying to protect itself. Hell, who wants to lose everything they have in a terrorist attack and then have the lawyers sue them for not being more proactive in their hiring processes and allowing terrorists to continue working there.
Very good. Where can I get the bumper sticker?
What did you do? Burp?
NIOSH is not a private corporation. It's the Gubbmint.
See, there you go. I didn't say that. It's towel heads. JUST KIDDING!!! I'M KIDDING!!!
I can tell you and them why they were fired.
They failed [did not pass] the background investigation.
Great post! I agree completely.
They were probably hired contingent upon a favorable security review. If they didn't get it, they get gone.
An article with more detail that answers some of the questions posted here. It's pretty hard not to see this as a violation of our country's principles and traditions (things that we, as conservatives, should be fighting for). The guy's no terrorist, and goof-ups like this just weaken the government's credibility when they need it because they've found a real terrorist. I've generally not been a fan of the ACLU (especially when they mess around with people's religious freedoms) but that just makes it all the more embarassing that these people had to turn to the ACLU to be defended. There should have been conservative groups out there to help. Anyway, here's the article:
Mystery Cloaks Couple's Firing as Risks to U.S.
December 12, 2004
By JAMES DAO
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - May 5, the day that changed Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari's lives, began like most others. They shared coffee, dropped their 12-year-old son off at Cheat Lake Middle School here, then drove to their laboratories at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that studies workplace hazards.
But that afternoon, their managers pulled the Afsharis aside and delivered a stunning message: they had failed secret background checks and were being fired. No explanations were offered and no appeals allowed. They were escorted to the door and told not to return.
Mrs. Afshari, a woman not prone to emotional flourishes, says she stood in the parking lot and wept. "I just wanted to know why," she said.
Seven months later, the Afsharis, Shiite Muslims who came from Iran 18 years ago to study, then stayed to build careers and raise three children, still have no answers.
They have been told they were fired for national security reasons that remain secret. When their lawyer requested the documents used to justify the action, he was told none existed. When he asked for copies of the agency's policies relating to the background checks, he received a generic personnel handbook.
Without any official explanations of why they failed their background checks, they came up with their own theory: their attendance, more than five years ago, at two conventions of a Persian student association that has come under F.B.I. scrutiny, once with a man who was later investigated by the bureau.
The Afsharis' case comes at time when immigrants from many nations, but particularly Islamic ones, are facing tougher scrutiny from government agencies.
Unable to clear their names or find new employment in their field, the Afsharis on Thursday resorted to that most American of recourses: they sued the institute and its parent agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding back pay and reinstatement or the chance to appeal.
The Afsharis, who passed background checks when they were hired - he in 1996, she in 1997 - were not even aware of the new reviews until they were told that they had failed.
In their suit, they do not question the government's right to conduct background checks. But their lawyers contend that the Kafkaesque nature of the process - in which the rules were unclear and perhaps unwritten - has made it impossible for them to defend themselves.
"How can we expect the people of the Middle East to emulate our democratic ideals abroad when we fail to apply those ideals to people like the Afsharis here?" asked Allan N. Karlin, a lawyer in Morgantown who, along with chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union in West Virginia and Washington, is representing the couple.
The Centers for Disease Control has said the Afsharis were not singled out because of their ethnic background, asserting that other Iranians and Muslims have faced similar background checks and passed. The agency also notes that the couple, who are not citizens and do not have protected Civil Service status, could have been fired at any time.
But the agency has declined to say anything else about the case and did not respond to questions about its policies on background checks. "All I can say is the Afsharis are no longer employed by C.D.C.," said a spokeswoman, Kathryn Harben.
Federal employees have always faced routine background checks, typically when they are hired. But experts say that since the Sept. 11 attacks, checks at certain agencies, including the disease control centers, have become more frequent and tougher as the government attempts to identify potential security leaks or spies with access to classified or dangerous materials.
Those tougher checks seem to have focused on immigrants from certain countries. A C.D.C. document obtained by the Afsharis shows that the recent background checks on them were ordered because they came from a "threat" country, Iran.
But what is most confounding to the Afsharis is how the government could consider them threats in the first place. Neither had access to classified documents or worked with banned biological or chemical toxins.
Moreover, none of their research was secret, much of it having been published in scholarly journals or presented at academic conferences.
Mr. Afshari, 52, who has a doctorate in industrial engineering, built equipment to study the health effects of things like asphalt fumes, human saliva and dust particles. One of his inventions helped analyze the sound of the human cough. He also worked with commercially available lasers and ultrasound equipment.
Mrs. Afshari, 43, who has a master's degree in occupational health and safety, worked in a laboratory that researched allergic reactions to common items like latex gloves and hand cleansers.
Handling classified documents or banned toxins requires a higher security clearance than the Afsharis possessed. Indeed, neither of them had ever applied for such clearances, which entail more intensive background investigations than the standard checks conducted on most federal workers.
Paradoxically, federal law grants people who apply for such clearances more rights than the Afsharis were given, experts say. Under cold-war-era regulations, people who fail such clearances can request internal documents explaining the reasons and are entitled to hearings where they can present a defense.
"What we have here is a brand-new, ad hoc, secret system," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group, referring to the checks that led to the firings.
Friends and former colleagues say the Afsharis, though practicing Shiites who shun alcohol and worry about the permissiveness of American society, are anything but religious firebrands.
Mr. Afshari, a gregarious, chatty, bearlike man, was known to bring kosher turkeys to Thanksgiving dinners at Jewish homes and spend weekends repairing colleagues' cars for nothing. When his daughter, Azadeh, now 22 and a first-year student at West Virginia University's dental school here, decided to stop wearing a head scarf a few years ago, he did not protest, friends said.
The Afsharis' two eldest children, who were born in Iran but consider themselves Americans, have become well-known figures in Morgantown. Azadeh was a dean's list student, a campus government leader and a finalist for homecoming queen last year. Her brother Hamed, 21, a senior at the university, is also an honor student and a member of the student government. Their youngest child, Amin, 12, was born in America.
Robert C. Creese, a professor of engineering who was Mr. Afshari's doctoral adviser at West Virginia University, described Mr. Afshari as a pacifist who was appalled by the devastation wrought by Iran's decade-long war with Iraq. Mr. Afshari's younger brother was killed by mustard gas in that conflict.
"I fear a serious mistake has been made by C.D.C.," Dr. Creese said in one of nearly two dozen letters delivered to the agency that former colleagues have written to protest the Afsharis' firings.
The Afsharis contend that their only link to the student group under federal scrutiny, the Muslim Students Association (Persian Speaking Group), is that they took their children to national conventions in Chicago in December 1998 and Washington in December 1999.
Senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including the former director Louis J. Freeh, have said the group, sometimes referred to by the Farsi name Anjoman Islamie, is made up largely of anti-American fanatics, maintains close ties to the government of Iran and has been used as a front for Iranian intelligence. But it is not on the State Department's list of banned foreign terrorist organizations, and it operates openly in the United States.
The Persian student group is independent of the larger Muslim Students Association, a mainly Sunni group.
To the Afsharis, the conventions were an opportunity to speak Persian, eat Iranian food, attend workshops on Islam and meet other Iranian-Americans at a time of the year when many Americans were celebrating Christmas.
"We loved it because it was a chance to meet kids from our culture," Azadeh Afshari said. "We pushed our parents to go."
Mr. Afshari said the F.B.I. became aware of his family's trips to the conventions after an agent interviewed him in late 2001 about an Iranian friend, a graduate student who had been active in the association. The man, Shahab Ghasemzadeh, was deported for immigration violations last year, Mr. Karlin, the Afsharis' lawyer, said.
In a statement to an immigration court last year, an F.B.I. agent said Mr. Ghasemzadeh "may pose a long-term threat" to the United States because of his association with Anjoman Islamie. As evidence, the agent said Mr. Ghasemzadeh had attended the group's conventions (he went to one of them with the Afsharis), and had helped Iranian-Americans vote in Iranian elections.
It remains unclear if Mr. Afshari's friendship with Mr. Ghasemzadeh was the reason he failed the background check. But if it was, the Afsharis' lawyers say, his firing would be a case of guilt by association and a violation of the First Amendment rights they enjoy as legal permanent residents.
"This looks suspiciously like the witch hunts of the 50's, this time targeted against Muslim Americans," Ms. Martin of the Center for National Security Studies said.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Afshari's unemployment benefits ran out. He has not found work, and the family is now living on savings and credit cards. Mrs. Afshari has begun dental school with Azadeh but says she does not know if they can afford the tuition.
Mr. Afshari has become sullen and withdrawn, his children said. Though his father in Iran is ill, Mr. Afshari has decided not to visit him, fearing he will not be allowed to return to the United States.
"Everybody has a sense of pride about their parents," Hamed Afshari said, breaking into tears. "And then someone disrespects them like that and it hurts so bad because there is nothing you can do."
The case has also affected the Afsharis' friends, who say they remain mystified and angry about the way the couple has been treated.
"I've told Ali's story to a lot of people," said Travis Goldsmith, a computer engineer who worked with Mr. Afshari. "They don't believe that this could happen in this country."
hushpad: "Better safe than sorry with those from the ME."
Well, actually, no. It's long been one of this country's greatest principles that we care more about liberty than security. (cf. NH State Motto, Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death." etc.) Of course, there are plenty of countries out there (China, Russia, much of the Middle East) where they put security before people's freedom, but I thought we were trying to change that. How can we tell Iraqis that freedom is worth risking insecurity, but then break that principle back home?
And before someone reminds me that 9-11 happened, I know that, and I also knew someone who died in it. But we can't just live our lives in fear and let that break our principles and our ideals. (And even if we did that, we still couldn't guarantee security. There's no way to make terrorism impossible. It's naive to think so.)
It's ridiculous to treat all Muslims with suspicion because of 9-11. Should we have treated all white ex-Army males with suspicion after Oklahoma City?
As conservatives, we, of all people, should remember and try to live up to what Benjamin Franklin (or one of his colleagues) said: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
If the facts as reported play out, then this family was hosed.
However, I would caution against citing the New York Times as a source of factual reporting on a topic such as this. They are not known as particularly critical thinkers, nor are they known for balanced reporting.
"I do not fear those from the ME! But lets face it, their ideals and principles DO NOT measure up to ours, and until they do, they are suspect.
"The Oklahoma City Reference holds water as well as a broken vase. At least McVee (sp?) was a domestic criminal that we could prosecute and KILL."
In response to your first comment, I'm glad you don't fear those from the ME. But since you don't, what reason is there for being willing to deport anyone who happens to be originally from there on very slight and possibly mistaken suspicion, without giving them a chance to rebut any evidence that there might be against them? When you say that 'their' ideals and principles do not measure up to ours, who is the 'they' that you are referring to? Saudis? Sunni Muslims? Arabic speakers, (whether Muslim or Christian)? Even if all three, none of these categories would apply to Afshari, who's a Shia Muslim Farsi-speaking Iranian. How can you know what _his_ ideals and principles are? I know some Iranians who came to the US, and they all did so because they believed in _this_ country's ideals and principles and wanted to live by them. Our ideals and principles won't last long if we keep turning away people who believe in them.
The point that I was (perhaps badly, as you point out) trying to make with the Oklahoma City reference, was essentially that the 'they' you're referring to is too broad. Everyone from the ME? Certainly the 9-11 hijackers came from the ME, but should that make everyone from the ME suspect? That's something around a billion people (depending on who exactly gets included in your 'they'), treated with a presumption of suspicion because of the crimes of less than a hundred. Does that make sense? Whenever anyone commits a terrible crime, he always comes from a background, comes from a specific region, had a certain career, had certain friends, etc. But should everyone else who shares those with him share his guilt, or be under a preseumption of suspicion?
While my OK City example may not have held water very well, I don't think your counterargument did a very good job of further shattering it. Of course McVeigh was a domestic criminal that we could prosecute and kill. And the 9-11 hijackers were also criminals who were on US soil at the time. We could prosecute and kill them too, if they were still alive. But the question is whether people who grew up with McVeigh should be held under suspicion along with McVeigh, as you're suggesting we do to all the people who grew up in the same (very large and very varied) geographical region as the 9-11 hijackers. If the next terrorist attack is committed by an Irishman, should we fire/expel/deport all the Irishmen here? Or should we (more realistically) try to find anyone who might be planning terrorist attacks, but recognize that the vast majority of Irishmen had nothing to do with the criminal?
Thanks for reading,
"If the facts as reported play out, then this family was hosed."
"However, I would caution against citing the New York Times as a source of factual reporting on a topic such as this. They are not known as particularly critical thinkers, nor are they known for balanced reporting."
Thanks for the reply. Certainly the NY Times has a bias, and you have to bear that in mind when reading that (it's a good idea when reading anything, really), but even reading between the lines, and ignoring emotionalized language and so on, the bare facts of the case should appall us. Here's another version of the story, from the WVU paper. Note what the FBI eventually ends up admitting about Afshari's daughter who was told she'd have to transfer away from NIOSH to finish her internship (that they don't have any files on her at all) and what Afshari tells people who apologize to him (that they should still be proud of America). This kind of guy isn't our enemy, and he shouldn't have to turn to the ACLU for protection. It hurts our cause when this happens Here's the article, and even if you ignore everything that's subjective or opinion-based in it, the facts are pretty damning:
Monday Dec 13, 2004
Muslim couple challenges firing from NIOSH
By Billy Wolfe
A local Muslim couple claims that they were wrongly fired from their jobs at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health last May because of their ethnic background and religious faith, according to a complaint filed in Washington D.C. District Court last week.
Aliakbar Afshari and his wife, Shala Azadi, claim they began worrying about their jobs last May when their daughter, Azadeh Afshari, was asked to bring her passport with her to NIOSH, where she was doing an internship in exercise physiology. A week later, she was told she would have to complete her internship at Mylan Pharmaceuticals. They say no reason was given for their daughter's termination. On May 5, Aliakbar and Azadi were escorted off the NIOSH premises by their supervisors, and told not to report back to work because they had failed a Homeland Security-ordered background check.
The Afsharis, who are permanent American residents, did not know a background check was in progress, and neither did their supervisors. According to Aliakbar, his supervisor cried when he fired him.
The termination surprised all NIOSH employees, especially the Afsharis, who claim they have no criminal history to warrant alarm from Homeland Security.
"I don't have so much as a traffic ticket," said Azadi, who blames the paranoia of a post-9/11 America for her termination. "Security is good, but they've taken this too far. They're rushing to label everybody."
When they asked to see documentation of the background check, the Afsharis were told it was classified. Their lawyer, Allan Karlin, then filed under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain it. The FBI then said they had no files in Washington, but were looking in other places, according to Karlin.
Later, FBI officials said they possessed no files at all on Azadi, Karlin said.
Aliakbar passed a background check, which is standard for all federal employees, when he began working at NIOSH in 1989. Azadi passed a background check in 1997.
Dhoki Fassihian, executive director of the National Iranian American Council, was contacted by Karlin during the summer, because the NIAC documents discrimination against Iranians. She says she feels that what the Afsharis are facing is "the most egregious act of discrimination" her group has encountered so far.
"It sounded so unreal and severe. These people were just fired and given no reason," Fassihian said. Fassihian also said that the government is unfairly enforcing policies against middle-easterners.
"An Iranian immigrant simply faces stricter enforcement of security laws than say, a Honduran immigrant," she said. Their termination letters were signed by William Porter, director of the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, and Equal Opportunity Employment Officer, Thedford Lee.
The letters state that the Afsharis can contact Lee for more information regarding this issue. According to Aliakbar, he has yet to reach Lee by calling the number provided. Neither Lee, nor the offices of OSEP wished to comment on the case. While the lawsuit states that coworkers were instructed not to write recommendation letters regarding the Afsharis' job performance, many of them wrote letters of support to Karlin. Karlin has received more than 30 written statements from members of the community who wrote of the upstanding characters of Aliakbar and Azadi.
The couple says they are impressed by the affection shown to them during this period in their lives. According to Aliakbar, some coworkers came to him saying they were ashamed to be Americans.
"I told them they should never be ashamed of their country," he said. Karlin said nothing in their job descriptions called for a special security clearance. He added that no one working at the Morgantown NIOSH facility possesses one. The Afsharis say the termination has had a paralyzing effect on their family. Azadi, who is attending dental school at West Virginia University, is doing so on a loan. Both are unemployed and living on unemployment checks and the savings they have accrued over the years.
They both continue to search for new jobs, but aren't finding any success. "I've been given no reason for being fired. I've done nothing wrong but if you're an employer, and you can choose to hire someone without all this mess, then you will," said Azadi.
"They have been backed into a corner where they can't defend themselves. He (Aliakbar) has a Ph.D. What is he to do, flip burgers?" said Karlin.
Aliakbar got his green card five years ago. He would have been eligible this year to become a true citizen. Now he fears he won't be granted citizenship. According to Fassihian, her group has received many reports of eligible Iranians waiting since 1998 and earlier to be granted citizenship. She says the discrimination against the Iranian American community isn't getting any better.
Even though the Afsharis were not citizens, Karlin says that as permanent residents working as service fellows for the government, they had the same job protection rights as an American citizen.
Karlin, as well as lawyers from the WVU College of Law, and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing for back-pay, compensation, and for Aliakbar to be reinstated to his job. The Afsharis hope to clear their names with the lawsuit. While he misses getting paid, Aliakbar said he also misses having a job which enabled him to help people. As a scientist working for the government, Aliakbar once built a machine that could analyze an individual's cough, and diagnose that person if he/she was ill.
While Aliakbar says he has no idea why this happened, the lawsuit states that he is being persecuted for associating with "other Muslims engaged in lawful activities."
Fassihian disagrees. She said it is because most Americans don't differentiate between Iraqi and Iranian Americans, but added that it wouldn't be right to discriminate against an Iraqi American either.
"You don't even have to be Muslim to be treated badly. You just need to be Middle Eastern. Just because you might wear a turban on your head, you get placed in a certain group," she said.
Karlin said in October that he was looking forward to the lawsuit, and protecting another individual's First Amendment rights.
"I grew up believing this sort of thing was un-American but I worry that it is becoming American to arbitrarily discriminate against people," said Karlin.
Small Correction: It's his wife, not his daughter, who was told she'd have to leave NIOSH, but about whom the FBI eventually admitted to having no files at all.
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