Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Thursday, December 16, 2004

WV Iranian Couple Sues After Being Fired From NIOSH

I have a vision of every NIOSH/CDC employee going to work one day wearing a crescent patch or head scarf.....

I wrote a few days ago about the Iranian NIOSH employees, Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari, who had been fired for failing a security screening that they didn't even know was happening. Nor were they told the reasons they were fired.

Assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Afshari's have now filed a lawsuit asking for back pay, reinstatement or the chance to appeal.
The Afsharis, who are Shiite Muslims, immigrated from Iran 18 years ago to study at West Virginia University. They stayed in the community to build careers and raise three children. Both are lawful permanent residents.

They were fired May 5 because they failed to pass a secret background investigation that was conducted on employees from countries considered a threat to the United States, including Iran, according to a news release from the ACLU in West Virginia.

The Afsharis were told only that they were fired for national security reasons that are classified. They were escorted to the door and told not to return, according to the lawsuit.

The Afsharis, who passed background checks when they were hired in 1996 and in 1997, were not aware of the secret reviews until they were told that they had failed. When their lawyer, Allan Karlin of Morgantown, requested documents used to justify their firing, he was told none existed, according to the lawsuit.

In their lawsuit, they do not question the government's right to conduct background checks. But their lawyers contend that the process has made it impossible for them to defend themselves. The Afsharis believe they were fired because of their national origin and religious beliefs in violation of their First Amendment rights.

"How can we expect the people of the Middle East to take us seriously when we ask them to emulate our democratic principals if we fail to apply those principals to the Afsharis and others like them?" Karlin said Monday.

Mr. Afshari, 52, who has a doctorate in industrial engineering from WVU, built equipment to study the health effects of welding and asphalt fumes and hand and arm vibrations.

Mrs. Afshari, 43, who has a master's degree in occupational health and safety engineering, worked in a laboratory that researched sensitivity to chemicals in the work place, such as allergic reactions to latex gloves.
The Afshari's story has been picked up by a number of bloggers. Revere over at Effect Measure wonders where CDC Director Julie Gerberding has been through all of this. CDC is NIOSH's "parent" agency and was named in the Afshari's lawsuit:
We have become so inured to a federal terror bureaucracy run amok we forget to ask, "Why is the head of NIOSH's parent agency, CDC, letting this happen without a peep?" CDC Director Julie Gerberding has an obligation to defend and protect the many dedicated public servants at NIOSH from this kind of Kafkaesque crap. At the very least, she could have publicly insisted on due process.

Diagnosis: Absent spinal column.
Treatment plan: Backbone transplant.
Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution takes a bit more radical view:
Okay, the US is taking on the tinge of a Kafka-esque nightmare. So what else is new? Well, my eye was caught by this:

Robert C. Creese, a professor of engineering who was Mr. Afshari's doctoral adviser at West Virginia University, described Mr. Afshari as a pacifist who was appalled by the devastation wrought by Iran's decade-long war with Iraq. Mr. Afshari's younger brother was killed by mustard gas in that conflict.

Wow, we've really done right by the Afsharis! First we give Saddam Hussein a green light to invade their country (talking point #5 here), later on we fire them, and in between we help Saddam kill Aliakbar's brother. Hopefully we can draft the Afshari children soon, then make them invade Iran and kill their own grandparents.

No need to thank us, Afshari family, we will say modestly. We're just doin' our job.

(Link via Tom Tomorrow)

And apparently, according to the National Catholic Reporter (no link), things are bad all over:
Iranians in the United States are seeing a surge in firings and FBI interrogations and security clearance denials as anti-terrorist efforts mount and Washington's criticism of the Iranian government sharpens.

Dokhi Fassihian, executive director of the National Iranian American Council, says she is getting up to five reports a day of Iranians complaining of harassment.

Fassihian says Iranians have been singled out since 9/11 but that the current crackdown comes from tightening U.S. security measures as well as increased tension between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program and alleged ties with terrorist groups. "It appears that, after Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran is a likely target of the next U.S. invasion," says Ali Golchin, an immigration lawyer in San Diego.


[Political director for the Iranian American Political Action Committee] Morad Ghorban and Fassihian want balanced anti-terrorist measures that promote homeland security while respecting the rights of industrious and law-abiding persons. Golchin says most Iranians are successful in education, science, business and the professions and deserve the temporary protected status accorded to nationals of many other nations.

They say the treatment of Iranians is out of proportion. "Never, never has there been an instance of terrorism by someone from the Iranian community in America," Fassihian says.
Yeah, tell it to Japanese-Americans.

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