A 35-year-old Rockville taxi driver has become, like the late shah of his native Iran, a man condemned to travel from port to port, denied entry everywhere.
Khoussrow Vaissi-Ghassabeh, an Iranian expatriate who has lived in this country illegally for 14 years, has been ordered by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to be deported to Iran, where, he has said, he fears for his life.
Vaissi, as he is known in this country, and his 18-year-old American wife have been forced to shuttle across the Atlantic Ocean four times since Oct. 1.
For 10 straight days their movements were confined to airliners and airport lounges. On Monday night, hours before Vaissi was slated for another forced journey -- ultimate destination Iran -- the INS reluctantly granted him a week's safe harbor in the Baltimore City Jail.
Vaissi narrowly avoided deportation from France to Iran last week, and then only by the aid of United Nations officials, lawyers in Paris, Istanbul and Washington, and, according to Jan Pederson, one of Vaissi's lawyers here, the personal intervention of exiled former Iranian premier Shahpour Baktiar.
"We were terrified," Sharon Reid Vaissi said yesterday from her Rockville apartment regarding the couple's long trans-Atlantic ordeal. "My husband has been going through pure hell . . . . INS officials keep telling him, 'You're going to Iran; you're going to Iran.' Not one of them has a decent heart." The couple slept on airport benches for days and spent about $8,000 on air fares, according to Sharon Vaissi.
Khoussrow Vaissi's lawyers are seeking to have him granted political asylum in the United States, arguing that his years here and his participation in activities opposing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini here would result in almost certain persecution in his homeland.
The INS maintains that Vaissi has abused immigration laws by ignoring a 1971 deportation order, and officials say he has failed to prove he would be persecuted in Iran.
Raymond Penn, Baltimore district director of the INS, said yesterday that unidentified "outside interests" giving misinformation to French authorities had thwarted his agency's repeated efforts to have Vaissi deported to Iran via Paris.
Joachim Henkel, deputy representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, asked the INS Friday to reopen the Vaissi case. He said yesterday he believes that Vaissi would be in danger in Iran.
"You don't deport refugees to their country of origin just because of a technicality," said Henkel.
The couple's odyssey began Sept. 24, when they went to the INS seeking permanent resident status for Khoussrow Vaissi, based on his marriage to an American. Immigration authorities said he had failed to comply with the 1971 deportation order and had him placed in the Baltimore City Jail.
In order to enhance his chances of eventually obtaining a U.S. visa, Vaissi agreed to leave the country. The Vaissis borrowed money, left their son with relatives, and on Oct. 1 boarded a Paris-bound flight from Dulles International Airport. Vaissi's passport had been confiscated by the Iranian interest section of the Algerian Embassy, and the only travel document he carried was a 20-day pass good only for return to Iran. At Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, French authorities would not allow Vaissi into the country, so the couple left that night on a flight to Istanbul.
The Turks turned them away, and they were forced to take a flight back to Paris in the early hours of Wednesday, Oct. 2. In Paris, they made calls to friends and a lawyer there, and with their help, Vaissi applied for political asylum in France. The couple then waited for a response for days in lounge areas of DeGaulle Airport.
"We never saw daylight, we never had fresh air," said Sharon Vaissi, who said she is pregnant and suffered from morning sickness throughout their travels. She said French authorities allowed them to use shower facilities at the airport, but they had no place to sleep except lounge areas.
Last Wednesday, France finally said it would not offer asylum. The Vaissis were promptly sent back to the United States, landing at Dulles at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Just 2 hours and 20 minutes later, they were aboard a TWA airliner bound again for Paris, this time accompanied by an INS official. They arrived early Thursday morning, and this time, according to Sharon Vaissi, French authorities prepared to escort her husband to Orly Airport for a flight to Iran.
Khoussrow Vaissi made frantic phone calls to friends, lawyers and Iranian contacts in France, according to his attorneys and Sharon Vaissi.
The French authorities instead put the Vaissis and the INS agent on a plane bound for the United States, and they arrived at Dulles at 4 p.m.
"I said, 'Just don't take him on another damn route tonight; give us some time,' " Sharon Vaissi said she told waiting INS officials. Khoussrow Vaissi was jailed in Baltimore, and, as his three attorneys here frantically worked to get his case reopened, the INS made plans to deport him to Iran through an unidentified third country Monday night.
Monday morning, the INS agreed to a seven-day stay of the deportation order.
Vaissi came to the United States legally in 1971 to attend a college in North Carolina for one year. He instead chose to attend Northern Virginia Community College, violating immigration rules. He was ordered deported in December 1971.
But Vaissi never left the country, and the INS never went looking for him, according to the INS and Vaissi's lawyers.