Family and friends of Irman Iranbomy gathered last month in Falls Church, Va., to say goodbye to the 20-year-old Virginia college student, who had died in early June.
But the young man’s father, Seyed Shahram Iranbomy, was 4,000 miles away in Frankfurt, Germany, unable to attend his son’s funeral or to be there when his casket was lowered into American soil. The German Iranian lawyer’s application for a travel visa to the United States had been denied by the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and his humanitarian appeal had gone unanswered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
On Thursday, two weeks after his son’s funeral, he said he received a rejection, which he vowed would not be the end of the dispute.
“I’m a humanist, not a terrorist,” Iranbomy, 52, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
USCIS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs declined to say why the father, who said he needed three days to commemorate his son’s death, was refused entry.
Iranbomy was denied a nonimmigrant visa under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that “prohibits issuing a visa to any person who seeks or has sought to procure a visa, other documentation, admission into the United States, or immigration benefit by fraud or by willfully misrepresenting a material fact,” according to a form that he says he was given by an official in the consulate, which he provided to The Post.
He was handed the notice, he said, after an interview in the consulate on June 19 in which he was accused of using the death of his son to immigrate to the United States, which he says he has no interest in doing, given his legal practice in Frankfurt. And the lawyer, who was born in Tehran but has lived in Germany for more than 40 years, said he was told that he lacked roots in Germany proving that he would return there.
“No roots?” he protested. “What am I, a flower?”
His request for a visa rebuffed, Iranbomy applied for a special travel document allowing “parole into the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.”
Meanwhile, his family members in Virginia — including his ex-wife and 18-year-old daughter — delayed the funeral, hoping that his humanitarian appeal would be resolved rapidly.
Their confidence was bolstered by support from a lawyer with the European Commission, who addressed an inquiry to a member of the European Parliament, as well as the mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann, who agreed to take up the case with the American embassy.
A member of Congress even weighed in on their behalf.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) addressed a letter to the American Consulate in Frankfurt on June 25 after he was contacted by Iranbomy’s daughter, a college student who has lived with her mother in Falls Church, which lies in Beyer’s district.
“My constituent states that he has significant ties to Germany that evidence a return as he is a practicing lawyer,” Beyer wrote. “I therefore respectfully request you give every possible consideration for a favorable decision as allowed under all applicable laws and regulations.”
The request went unfulfilled, and the family moved ahead with the funeral on June 27, he said. The father had to settle for images of the wreath-adorned casket being loaded into a hearse.
Iranbomy didn’t learn until Thursday, he said, that his new application had been rejected.
The denial notice came in a letter dated July 3, which he said he had not received by mail and only discovered when it was emailed to him Thursday by John Bird, the chief of the humanitarian affairs branch at USCIS.
“We carefully reviewed your application in accordance with the law, regulation, and USCIS policy and determined that parole is not warranted,” Bird wrote in the letter. “Therefore, we have denied your request for parole.”
Iranbomy said he is seeking an American attorney to help him appeal the decision. Asked why he was still attempting to enter the United States following the funeral, he said he wanted to vindicate his rights “in the name of the dignity of my son.”
“This is a violation of the human rights of the family,” he said.
USCIS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs declined to specify what about Iranbomy or his application had not warranted a travel visa or humanitarian relief.
“USCIS is committed to adjudicating all applications fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations,” said Daniel Hetlage, a spokesman for USCIS.
A spokesperson for the State Department said visa records were confidential. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not return a request for comment.
If he is under scrutiny by American officials, it has not stopped the American Consulate in Frankfurt from including him on a list of English-speaking lawyers available to assist with immigration cases in the federal state of Hesse. The list, which includes a disclaimer that it is “in no way an endorsement” by the American government, notes that Iranbomy speaks fluent German and Farsi, in addition to “Good” English, and has a PhD in international relations in addition to his legal qualifications.
Among the high-profile legal cases he has pursued in Germany was an attempt in 2015 to nullify an Iranian marriage contract requiring the husband to compensate the wife upon their separation, as the magazine Der Spiegel reported. A favorable judgment in the case stopped the “Talibanization” of German law, he said at the time.
Most baffling in the dispute in which he is now engulfed, Iranbomy said, is that he was provided with no explanation for the denial, beyond the suggestion that he was seeking to immigrate, for which he said there is no evidence. For numerous years, he said, he held a B1/B2 visa, a copy of which he provided to The Post. Such a visa would have allowed him to make visits for both business and pleasure.
He learned of its revocation in May 2017, as he was preparing to travel to the United States for a congressional conference at the invitation of then-Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and for a meeting of the Frankfurt-Philadelphia Society, of which he is still a member.
Iranbomy was preparing to depart for Washington Dulles International Airport when he learned that his visa was no longer valid. He suspects he was blocked because of the travel ban focusing on Iran and several other Muslim-majority nations, which President Trump had issued in January 2017 but whose enforcement was mostly blocked until June 2017.
Now, Iranbomy claims he is collateral damage in the Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” against Tehran, which says it is enriching uranium to higher levels than allowed under a 2015 accord with the United States and other world powers. Trump reneged on the agreement last year, casting its force into doubt.
Professing “trust in the American system,” Iranbomy said he thought at first that a mistake had been made. Perhaps there had been a computer error. It could even be that his last name, which has the word “Iran” in it, raised suspicion.
His patience has worn thin. And since details of his ordeal began appearing in German media last week, Iranbomy has received a flood of messages from Iranians who have family members in the United States and face similar situations, he said.
Trita Parsi, an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and the founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council, said there was a pattern of targeting not just the Iranian government but ordinary Iranians.
“I don’t think this kind of personal tragedy should be surprising, given that the maximum pressure strategy that Trump is pursuing doesn’t have a lot of exceptions,” Parsi said. “It started with the Muslim ban, which disproportionately affected Iranians. There’s a degree of cruelty that seems to be the point.”
What is more surprising, he added, is that there are still young Iranians who endeavor to come to the United States to study.
Iranbomy’s son was one such young Iranian, who had traveled to the United States with his sister and mother to pursue educational opportunities, ultimately at a Virginia college.
He had been studying psychology and political science, Iranbomy said. In Frankfurt, he was a commander in the youth fire brigade. He had participated in youth parliament activities in Berlin.
“Irman already achieved a lot at his young age,” the mayor of Frankfurt wrote in his letter of condolences.
Iranbomy, for his part, said he was unable to achieve the one final job he could do for his son.
“The father has not only the right to take care of the funeral, but also the obligation to do so,” he said.
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