"They destroyed us," Iranian student Mohammad Elmi told The Guardian last month after being detained upon arrival at LAX, interrogated, sent back to Tehran, and billed for his own deportation. The 31-year-old planned to start his PhD program at University of California, Santa Barbara and join his wife already living in the United States. Despite carrying a valid student visa granted after months of security checks, Elmi was "treated like a terrorist," and forced to agree to deportation—and with it a 5 year ban on visiting the U.S.—in exchange for one last chance to call his wife before being sent on the next plane back to Tehran.
Elmi is just one of the dozens of Iranians on valid visas whose lives have been permanently turned upside down overnight—and their horrific experiences act as hallmarks of Trump's ongoing, broader anti-Iran and anti-Muslim platform.
Last month, while Trump was busy threatening war crimes against 52 Iranian cultural sites with less than 240 characters, the Los Angeles Police Department heightened surveillance of the Iranian-American community despite admitting "no credible threat[s]." Nearly 200 American citizens of Iranian descent were interrogated and detained—some as young as five were held overnight—at the Peace Arch Border in Washington for the only crime of being ethnically Iranian.
The shameful era of U.S. Japanese internment felt suddenly not so distant, and history seemed doomed to repeat itself.
The past two months underscored for Iranian-Americans the fact that Trump's policies do not just endanger our families back in Iran; they also endanger hundreds of thousands of Iranian-Americans here at home.
As the last decades have made clear to us, when Americans elect war-mongering presidents with platforms of aggression, Iran will elect leaders who vow to protect them with military strength. The results of the Iranian parliamentary elections earlier this month resulted in a landslide victory for conservative hardliners, largely in response to Trump's worsening of Obama-era sanctions and unhinged military hostility.
Today, Iranians are watching the U.S. elections closely, and Bernie Sanders may be the only chance for peace with Iran in the foreseeable future.
As an Iranian-American community organizer and abolitionist, I do not believe electoral politics are the arena where much-needed systemic change can happen. But there is too much at stake right now to ignore. While every other Democratic candidate either supports policies—such as sanctions, war, or even the Muslim Ban—that devastates our communities and propels us further into military escalation, Bernie Sanders has consistently been the near-lone voice in preventing war with Iran during his time as Senator, and is the only candidate who comes close to addressing the needs of Iranian-Americans.
Sanders has prioritized his commitment to re-entering the Iran Deal, admonishing Trump's reckless withdrawal as "the worst possible course" to peace. Doing so would bring sanctions relief to Iranian people, and the urgency of this cannot be overstated. Sanctions against Iran do not suffocate a state; they suffocate the people, and particularly the poor and working class have been suffering in war-like conditions. Sanctions have even restricted Iran's access to medical supplies and tool tracking the spread of Coronavirus. Yet, Klobuchar and Warren have consistently voted alongside Republicans in worsening sanctions, while Sanders has remained the sole humanitarian voice and vote from the Democratic candidates in opposition.
Central to Sanders' platform is slashing the astronomical U.S. military budget. The US spends nearly $700 billion annually on endless wars, stealing resources away from basic goods like healthcare or education. Buttigieg, Biden, and Bloomberg push pro-war agendas that call for increased military spending, and in doing so, maintain a Trump-era likelihood of new wars.
Moreover, Sanders has not only committed to repealing the Muslim Ban on his first day in office, but is the only candidate calling for the abolition of CBP and ICE. These two institutions, created after 9/11, both surveil and intimidate the Muslim community and communities of color, and have only been emboldened in racism under the Trump regime. As long as these institutions exist, our broader communities of color are unsafe. Meanwhile, Klobuchar has not even agreed to repeal the Muslim Ban, and Bloomberg oversaw expansions in the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim communities and communities of color while mayor of NYC.
Even Sanders' broader policies such as universal healthcare or student debt relief—the latter of which Sanders stands alone in advocating for—are beneficial for everyone, but especially so for the Iranian-American community that prides itself on prioritizing higher education.
The time to elect a president that will usher in a more peaceful era is well overdue, and we may not get another chance to do so in our lifetimes. Sanders is the only candidate that will ensure we do not fall into another spiral of military escalation or start an endless war with Iran, costing another generation to live under constant military threats, devastating sanctions, and military despotism.
As long as there is a pro-war president in power—be it Trump or any of the other Democratic candidates—the U.S. is only one incoherent tweet away from plunging itself into a new military escalation that could turn our worlds upside down and cost millions of lives. We must break fear from the politics of fear, and elect on the politics of hope, for the safety of ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities domestically and abroad.
Hoda Katebi is an Iranian-American writer, creative educator, and community organizer.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.