10 October 2003

Iranian American Bar Association Burnishes Image of Iranian Americans

IABA seeks to engage Iranian Americans in U.S. political system

Washington -- The Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) is working to change prejudicial stereotypes in American society and to educate and involve Iranian Americans in the U.S. political system.

"Our [Iranian American] community suffers from a negative public image that reflects neither our accomplishments and contributions as Americans, nor the many positive and enduring aspects of our Iranian heritage," said Babak Hoghooghi, who founded the IABA in 2000.

"Iranian Americans individually are extremely successful by any standard in all walks of life," said Hoghooghi. He said they have distinguished themselves in the fields of law, business, science, medicine, and academia. "Our shortcoming has been that we have not been organized. Our voice in the political arena has not been heard," he said.

"The true potential of the Iranian American community will not be realized unless we are represented by effective national organizations that are actively and systematically engaged in the advancement and promotion of our common interests," said Hoghooghi. He said Iranian Americans have to get more involved in the U.S. political process.

In addition to enhancing the image of Iranian Americans, Hoghooghi said the IABA works to inform the American public about legal issues of concern to the Iranian American community.

The non-profit organization has grown significantly in the Washington and New York region. The IABA aims to promote the social, economic, professional and educational advancement of Iranian Americans and to create a close network of Iranian American attorneys and law students in metropolitan areas throughout the United States, said Hoghooghi.

In addition to organizing educational lectures, IABA has an active law-student mentoring program in which Iranian-American law students and first or second year attorneys throughout the United States are partnered with IABA members who provide advice and guidance on pursuing their legal careers. Next year the IABA hopes to establish a scholarship program for Iranian American law students, he said.

"A full mentor-mentee relationship can be so beneficial for those coming up through the ranks," said Hoghooghi. He said when he was studying law it was often difficult to find legal mentors of Iranian descent.

To build its influence, IABA has issued numerous position papers on issues of concern to the Iranian American community. These issues include visa issuance and admission to the United States, Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, Section 811 of the "SAFER Act" (Securing America's Future through Enforcement Reform Act) (H.R. 5013), and the detention of Iranian nationals by U.S. immigration authorities during the special registration component of the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) program.

Knowing that U.S. officials can be influenced through accurate presentation of information, the IABA publishes reports such as the forthcoming, "A Review of the Treatment of Iranian Nationals by the INS in Connection with the Implementation of NSEERS," based in part on interviews with over 30 people of Iranian descent who were detained by U.S. immigration authorities in Los Angeles in December 2002, Hoghooghi said.

The organization aims to "encourage transparency and accountability in government," he said.

"People should know exactly what happened, and if anyone exceeded the bounds of authority," said Hoghooghi. He said the report aims to bring clarity to the differing perspectives on what happened when nationals of Iranian descent were detained by immigration authorities.

The report is an effort to "constructively engage the political system," added Hoghooghi.

For further information about IABA and to access these papers visit www.iaba.us

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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