Hamid Kargaran was pacing in his San Francisco living room Sunday, not watching the news, trying to stay positive, waiting for his wife to call from Iran. She was due to leave for the airport within the hour, hoping that this time she wouldn’t be prevented from boarding a plane back home.
“We’re not letting ourselves even think that we won’t see each other again,” said Kargaran, 33. “I just can’t believe this is happening in America.”
Kargaran is a U.S. citizen, and a successful one. He owns a Bay-area marketing company that works with Google, as well as another that consults with medical practices, and he teaches at two local universities. His wife of two years, Elaheh Iranfard, 28, is a painter studying at the San Francisco Academy of Art. They both embrace California and U.S. culture with gusto.
“Her favorite is nude figures, which she couldn’t even do if she’d stayed in Iran,” Kargaran said.
Iranfard, who goes by Ellie, has had legal permanent residency for two years, but her green card didn’t help her Friday when she tried to get on a flight, any flight, for the United States.
She had been back home for a short visit with her family, a trip she’d planned after her parents were unable to obtain a visa for the United States. But in the hours after President Trump signed the executive order banning entrants from seven Muslim countries, including Iran, the door slammed shut. Agents at multiple airlines told her she couldn’t board, legal U.S. resident or not.
For two sleepless days, Kargaran said, he has desperately tried to get information from airlines, government officials, friends and family. At one point, he staked out a part of San Francisco International Airport where Customs and Border Protection officers take their break. Three of them gave him different answers to the same questions; one of them told him: “Iranians are not our friends.”
It’s been a shock to a man who joined pro-American demonstrations in Tehran after terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. What he was hearing now, as friends advised him to scrub from his phone any social media posts that suggested he disagreed with Trump, reminded him of the Iranian repression that drove him from the country.
“I never thought when I moved here and made this country my home that this would happen,” he said. “I employ people, I pay taxes. We love this country. But I feel like the hard work has been meaningless. We’re second-class citizens.”
Now he was waiting, and he knew there would be no relief until his wife actually walked into the sun in San Francisco. In three hours, she would find out whether Lufthansa agents in Tehran would let her onto a plane. In Germany, she would learn whether officials there would let her transit to California. At home, she still had to pass through U.S. passport control.
“I don’t know,” Kargaran said. “We’ve tried to do everything right. Doesn’t that matter?”