Legal advocates sue US over Iranian-born scholar’s treatment

May 17, 2022 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — A Canadian diabetes researcher scheduled to start a two-year fellowship at Harvard Medical School was wrongfully denied entry to the U.S. and discriminated against based on her Iranian heritage, according to legal filings.

Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program said Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against the federal government as well as a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights office on behalf of the researcher, identified in court papers as Maryam Shamloo.

The civil rights complaint alleges that Customs and Border Protection officers denied Shamloo and her husband entry to the U.S. based on their Iranian birth and violated procedures by demanding DNA samples. They and their two children are Canadian citizens.

The lawsuit asks the federal government to issue Shamloo a visa as soon as possible so she can begin the fellowship by June 6, more than a year after it was supposed to start.

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“I worked very hard for the last five years in order to be able to get this prestigious dream fellowship,” Shamloo said in a statement. “My hope was to go to Harvard and develop my knowledge of therapies in response to unmet needs in the field of diabetes.”

Shamloo and her minor children are listed as the plaintiffs in the suit. Her husband is not.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said in an email that the agency had no comment. An email requesting comment was left with the Department of Homeland Security.

“We call on the State Department to issue Maryam’s visa as soon as possible so that she may proceed with her fellowship and continue to use her exceptional talents to better our society,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, director of the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. “We also hope that the Department of Homeland Security will investigate this incident and hold Customs and Border Protection accountable in order to ensure that immigrants of Iranian descent do not continue to face discrimination when entering the U.S.”

According to the suit, Shamloo was recruited to join a team of researchers at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center developing gene therapy-based approaches to treating Type I autoimmune diabetes.

The family attempted to cross into the U.S. at the Pembina-Emerson port of entry at the North Dakota-Manitoba border on April 2, 2021.

There they “faced unjust scrutiny” due to their country of origin. Border agents interrogated her husband about his mandatory military service while in Iran and his political opinions before denying them entry, the Harvard law clinic said.

When Shamloo tried take a plane from Toronto to Boston without her family on April 18, 2021, she was again denied entry to the U.S., and told by Customs and Border Protection officers that she is “Iranian and there is a travel ban,” even though she is Canadian and the travel ban had been revoked, according to the suit.

As a result of her treatment, she “cried for several days, had trouble sleeping, and was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication by her physician,” according to the suit.

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As instructed, she applied for a J-1 visa, even though as a Canadian citizen she is not required to have one to enter the U.S., the suit said. That application remains pending.

Iran and the U.S. have not had formal diplomatic relations since April 1980, several months after the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, according to the State Department.