ATTORNEY GENERAL Griffin Bell has ordered a review of the options available to the Justice Department in dealing with violent Iranian student protesters currently living in this country. A good thing, too. During Tuesday's bloody bash in Beverly Hills, fires were set, property was destroyed and people were injured as an estimated 500 Iranian students stormed the residence of the shah's sister. It was only the latest and most dramatic of these encounters. According to a Los Angeles Times editorial, the stated aim of the demonstrators was "to terrorize -- or worse" the visiting 90-year-old mother of the shah. The editorial went right to the point: "The Iranian protesters claim that they want democracy in their homeland. Their behavior here indicates that they have yet to comprehend the meaning ot the word."
In fact, democracy U.S.-style rather complicates the options that are available to the Justice Department and other law-enforcement agencies in dealing with the violence of the students. To the emotionally understandable insistence of some that these foreign-national guests be summarily kicked out for an abuse of hospitality, it must be answered that -- fortunately -- there are limits to what the authorities can do at their own discretion and that these hard-won safeguards against arbitrary official behavior deserve to be honored. The country has had too much sad experience in the past with overweeing, law-unto-themselves immigration officers to want to start down that road again. Nevertheless, within the confines of law and decent procedure there are steps that can and should be taken.
For one thing, the actual immigration status of those Known to have taken part in the violence is being reviewed. This is as it should be, since it is widely supposed that many of these persons, currently in the United States on student visas, are one way or another in breach or violation of their immigration status. That is, they may have outstayed their authorized time limit or may no longer be students or may have violated their status in other ways that would subject them, at a minimum, to a hearing on the legality of their presence in the country.
In addition, there is the possibility of deporting those convicted of certain crimes. This is a lengthy procedure, involving as it does due process in both the relevant courts and at the immigration-service administrative-hearing level. Nevertheless, in the case of those visitors who have been charged with serious offenses, it should be pursued. We have our misgivings about the fact that seeing this procedure to completiopn requires the invocation of that loose and dangerous term -- yes -- good old "moral turpitude" to characterize the crime of which the foreign visitor has been convicted. This is, to be sure, a shadowy realm, easily subject to offical abuse. But we do think that very rigorously guarded and specific invocations of the charge would be justified -- against, say, protesters who had been found knowingly to have engaged in harmful, life- or safety-threatening acts.
The attorney general has said he wishes to deport such offenders. Whether he is ultimately able to do so or not, at a minimum the physically violent among our Iranian guests should be made to understand that, so far as the U.S. government is concerned, hospitality has its limits and that where these are brutishly violated, every effort will be made to terminate that hospitality.