The students who brought Iran's revolution to the streets of the United States find themselves facing a precarious future now that it has succeeded -- cut off, at least temporarily, from the family support and scholarships that allowed them to pursue an American education.
As their economic difficulties force them to drop out of school they confront the possibility of deportation, an eventuality that has been causing almost as much concern among State and Justice Department policymakers as among the more than 50,000 Iranian students.
"It's a growing problem," said one Justice Department official, and as the disruption of mail and banking services with Iran continues the situation is getting worse.
The ad hoc committee now running the Iranian Embassy has said it hopes its country's students -- except those who were in the pay of the shah's secret police -- will be able to continue in American schools. A spokesman said the embassy is currently trying to locate and organize money scattered through various scholarship funds set up by the monarchy to keep students here.
According to one recent report, 18,000 students in the United States were receiving financial assistance from private foundations and the government in Iran before the change in administration. The financial problems that the majority of Iranian students now face have been brought on by recurrent bank strikes, sporadic communications with Iran, and severe limitations on the amount of money that can be taken out of the country.
Basically, the way the immigration laws and policies are currently set up, if a foreign student cannot support himself without a full-time job and has to drop out of school or go on a part-time study schedule he is subject to deportation.
While some Iranians are eager to return to their country as soon as possible, many are reluctant to rush -- or be rushed -- back to a homeland still torn by internal strife.
"I think the country needs a couple of more years to settle down," a Catholic University graduate told a reporter Tuesday. "I don't want to go right now."
Many Iranian students have spent years in the United States without obtaining degrees. Some have privately admitted that it was not only their anti-shah politics that kept them from returning to Iran but also a preference for life in the West.
Others, however, are unhappy about the prospect of cutting short an education they say they hoped to use to better their country.
"If we feel we can't stay here with the money we have, we will go back," said Hootan Daviri, a 26-year-old engineering student at George Washington University and a veteran of several anti-shah demonstrations. "We do our best here in the United States, but we are not going to beg from the government."
Both U.S. and Iranian officials say they hope and expect the students' financial troubles will be temporary. Shahriar Rouhani, who was himself a graduate student at Yale University before he became the spokesman for the new embassy administration, said he expects the problem to be cleared up in a matter of days or, at most, a few weeks.
One highly placed Justice Department official was less optimistic. "We're just hoping that the students will be able to hang on long enough for the situation to settle down in Iran. The really heavy presssure won't come until next fall when the big tuition bills start rolling in," this official said.
But events in Iran have been so tumultuous and have come so rapidly that nobody is able to say for certain just when the hard-pressed students will get relief from their home country.
In the meantime the Iranian students are left in limbo, dependent on whatever savings they have, on legal part-time or illegal full-time employment, or on money borrowed from friends.
"These students who were living on family money are really suffering," said Hosain Parvizi, who holds an engineering degree but is currently working as a Georgetown bartender. "I myself am supporting another Persian, a friend of mine who's a student in Akron, Ohio. He's just going down the drain. He didn't have the money to register this semester.... I hope he pays me back."
The U.S. government's response to the situation has been mixed. As the problem became apparent at the end of January, Undersecretary of State David Newsom asked the Justice Department to relax several immigration restrictions on Iranian visitors and students in the United States.
For "both humanitarian and for policy reasons" Newsom suggested, in effect, that students who have overstayed their visas or graduated be allowed to work and continue to live in the United States without fear of imminent deportation.
Ever since violent anti-shah demonstrations at the beginning of the year, however, Attorney General Griffin Bell has adopted a hard line toward Iranian students. The Justice Department has so far declined to relax its policy except to give Iranians, generally, priority in consideration for work and visa applications.
"Students who are unable to remain in school will be considered out of status and are subject to deportation," Associate Attorney General Michael Egan wrote to Newsom on Feb. 2. Since then, despite rapidly changing events in Iran and Egan's expressed willingness to review his decision, Justice Department sources say there has been no significant change in the immigration policy with regard to Iranians.
Some area colleges have registered Iranian students even though payment of their living and tuition expenses is currently in doubt.
At Catholic University, fully a third of the 120 Iranian students there was being supported directly by the embassy, which is, at least for the moment, no longer footing their bills.
"We decided to let them enroll for the semester in hopes they can get things straightened out," said a spokeswoman for the university. These days, she said, "a lot of them instead of demonstrating are standing in line at the financial aid and the registrar's office trying to get into classes."