Fears of increased 'Iranophobia' grip Iranian-American community

Amid US-Iran tensions, many Iranian Americans fear they will face increased discrimination. Some already have.

Fears of increased 'Iranophobia' grip Iranian-American community

New York City, United States - In the weeks following the US killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soliemani, fears of increased "Iranophobia" have gripped some in the Iranian-American community amid the escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States.

Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops earlier this month after the killing of Soliemani on January 3.

Responding to the attacks, the US announced it was imposing additional sanctions on Iran, including sanctions on eight Iranian officials it said were involved in "destabilising" activities in the Middle East.

Iranian Americans have watched the latest developments with concern for family and friends in Iran, but also with renewed fears of a backlash against their communities in the US.

"The spread of Iranophobia in western media is leading to our dehumanisation," Monna Sabouri, an Iranian American, told Al Jazeera. "Iranian Americans are being stripped of their constitutional rights. And of our humanity."

Immediately after the US assassination of Soleimani, cities in the US were on alert for possible retaliation.

It makes people feel scared to say they are Iranian in fear of how others might react because all over the news they are telling you that Iranians are terrorists and you should be afraid.

LILY TAJADDINI, IRANIAN-AMERICAN ACTIVIST 

Despite the US Department of Homeland Security announcing there was "no specific, credible threat against the homeland", officials in cities such as New York put out statements saying they were prepared to respond to any threats from Iran.

"We will have to be vigilant against this threat for a long time to come," tweeted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately following the drone strike on Soleimani.

Law enforcement in Los Angeles stepped up patrols at potential targets, sources told local media, though they acknowledged there were no specific threats.

Such rhetoric and actions, Iranian Americans said, often unfairly puts them on the defence, and makes them targets for possible discrimination.

"Posts like this insinuate that Iran is a terrorist country and thus Iranians are terrorists," Lily Tajaddini, an Iranian-American activist in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera. "It makes people feel scared to say they are Iranian in fear of how others might react because all over the news they are telling you that Iranians are terrorists and you should be afraid."

Tajaddini said she, too, believes this kind of rhetoric leads to the spread of Iranophobia.

"State officials say they take these actions to make our communities safer, but who is really safer when they are targeting members of their communities for being Iranian?" she asked.

For some, the fear has become a reality, with reports of increased interrogation and visa denials for those trying to enter the US.

Last week, Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, a 24-year-old Iranian student enrolled in a university in Boston, Massachusetts, was deported despite a court order halting his removal. At least a dozen other Iranian students have been returned home despite having visas, US media reported.

Just after the killing of Soleimani, a group of dozens of Iranians and Iranian Americans were detained - some for up to 10 hours - at a border crossing in Blaine, Washington, and asked about their political affiliations.

At the time, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) denied there was a directive specific to the detention of travellers of Iranian descent, but reports over the weekend cited a US lawyer who was reportedly contacted by a CBP agent who countered the official narrative.