During the days since the American hostages were freed from Iran, the American judicial system has continued to grind out its judgment on the fate of thousands of Iranian students who got caught in the middle of the U.S. response to the crisis.
In Oklahoma City, for instance, 67 Iranians faced deportation hearings, as Immigration and Naturalization Service judges grappled to reduce the backlog produced by the Carter administration crackdown after the embassy in Tehran was seized in November 1979.
David Crosland, acting INS director, said in a recent interview that the hostage deal could mean a relaxing of the priority effort to find more illegal Iranians.
"To the extent there's not an international crisis and the regulations were based on an international crisis, we would review what's there and make modifications, in cooperation with the State Department," he said. He added that scheduled deportation proceedings would proceed.
Overall, however, the American exphasis on due process rights has kept former president Carter's controversial, 14-month-old deportation order from having much real effect.
Only 729 Iranian students actually have left the United States after being found in violation of their immigration status and ordered deported. That's only 8.6 percent of the 8,300 Iranian students who were found to be here, illegally.
More than 86 percent of the almost 60,000 Iranian students checked by INS agents more than a year ago had valid visas. Of the illegals, nearly 2,400 have been through hearings and ordered to leave, but are still in the United States pending appeals, an INS spokesman said. Another 2,200 had their visas reinstated after hearings, and the remaining 3,700, like those in Oklahoma City last week, were still waiting for their hearings.
About 2,800 of the Iranian students have applied for political asylum in rules on their applications. State has refused to process the claims during the hostage crisis.
Civil liberties attorneys attached the administration's efforts to single out the Iranian students for special enforcement attention a year ago, and a federal judge in Washington agreed. But the constitutionality of the regulations finally were upheld by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.
The problem since has been disposing of the backlog of cases.
Joe Monsanto, acting chief immgration judge, said in a telephone interview from Miami that he was trying to get up-to-date figures on the Iranian student deportation cases. He said he hoped to send judges by early February to clear up logjams in such areas as Tampa, where 70 cases need hearings, and Jacksonville, with 42 cases still pending.
Ed Chauvin, district INS director in New Orleans, said a judge cleared up more than 50 cases in his area two weeks ago, continuing several, accepting some asylum applications and signing departure orders for the rest.
Turner Primrose, an immigration attorney in Norman, Okla., said that he has handled about 180 deportation cases for Iranian students since Carter ordered the tough enforcement action. He said only one of his clients has been forced to leave the country so far.
Other cases are on appeal, have been returned to INS for further action or have resulted in the students being allowed to complete their educations. "I've found the service [INS] to be fair," he said. "They're being very gentle with these folks, compared to what they could be."
Crosland noted that new INS regulations would limit the duration of all student visas to the expected graduation date, rather than "duration of stay" that allowed many foreign students to go on for advanced degrees.
An INS spokesman said that the administration's other legal attack on Iranians -- prohibiting entry to the country unless visas were revalidated abroad -- drastically cut Iranian travel to the United States. Since the decree last April, only about 5,000 Iranians have entered the country.