Two of the Iranians paced slowly across the orange carpet of the Sanz School in Georgetown yesterday morning, fingering their brown passports while their countrymen exchanged jokes. The immigration agents were were a little late, and the students were a little nervous.
In the last two weeks, immigration agents in the District, Maryland and Virginia had interviewed 607 Iranian students and were moving to deport 54 of them. Now the 22 students at the small language school on Wisconsin Avenue were waiting to see what would happen to them.
In the end, it was relatively painless: a quick Polaroid snapshot and 10 minutes of questions for each student.
"They ask me, 'Are you working?' No. 'So my passport is okay," explained 24-year-old Mokhtari Borzou.
It has been 25 days since the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized, and 18 days since President Carter ordered the Justice Department to check all Iranian students and deport those who violated the terms of their visas.
By Monday night, 22,400 Iranians -- almost half the estimated 50,000 Iranian student's in this country -- had been interviewed, according to Verne Jervis, public information officer of the INS. Of these, 17,600 were in compliance with their visas and 3,050 were not and could be deported.
The status of nearly 2,000 other students is still in doubt, Jervis said.
Locally, Carter's stern order has been translated into a series of brief, businesslike interviews carried out on a tight schedule in immigration offices in Baltimore, Washington and Norfolk and at schools, colleges and universities around the area.
The Iranians are asked to give the essential details of their lives and their plans: date of birth, address, job (if any) school, major subject, degree plans. The inspectors of the Immigration and Naturalization Service write these down, check for inconsistencies, staple a new photo to the form and send the students on their way.
"We just don't snatch people up and throw them here or there," said Steve Stephanadis, assistant director of inspections for the Washington INS office. "That's not the way we work. That's not the way this country works. Due process is the name of the game."
So is routine. Down the hall from Stephanadis's office, past a crowded collection of desks and partitions and inspectors, stands an easel bearing a carefully ruled calendar. In tiny block letters, it charts the march of the INS agents through the local network of educational institutions.
MONDAY, Nov. 26. The International Language Institute, Washington (25 Iranians).
TUESDAY, Nov. 27, The English Language School, Washington (20 Iranians). Trinity College, Washington (4 Iranians). The Falls Church Beauty School (2 Iranians).
WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28, Sanz School (22 Iranians). George Washington University (Maximum 50 Iranians). (Since there are nearly 700 Iranians at GW Stephanadis said, arrangements had been made to bring them into the INS offices on Vermont Avenue NW at a rate of no more than 50 per day. Similar arrangements have been made at Howard University.)
The calendar continues that way, each day's block filled with the names of schools and the approximate number of Iranians who attended them. The last date is Dec. 14, the deadline set for completing the interviews of the 4,500 Iranian students in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Through the blocks that marked the following week, someone in the INS office has scrawled "Gone Fishing."
While interviewing began at local schools on Monday, INS agents have been handling Iranian student interviews in their offices since Nov. 14, the day after Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti announced the guidelines for the review procedures.
In this first week of on-campus interviewing, the INS agents started gingerly, putting small institutions on the top of their list. "It's just going to take large schools a little more time to put the (interview) machinery into place," explained Stephanadis.
"If a school has only three or four or five students, it takes only 15 minutes to notify everyone," he added.
Some local schools, such as George Washington, have said that they have no space for the INS proceedings, Stephanadis said.
Others, like Sanz, preferred that students see the agents in a familiar setting. "Some of them are apprehensive, and we wanted to mitigate that," explained Sanz Director Kip James.