Former Irani happy to win U.S. citizenship

Posted: Sunday, October 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man who faced deportation only a few weeks ago because of an old drug conviction achieved a dream Friday that he feared would never happen: He became a U.S. citizen.

David Abbasian could have been sent back to Iran, and according to his attorney, could have faced execution because of his Baha'i faith. Instead, he pledged his oath of allegiance to the United States on Friday.

''I was thinking how long I've waited for this to happen and what a special day this is,'' said Abbasian afterward. ''I was thinking how grim it looked at points. But I held in there.''

Abbasian, 35, arrived as a teen-ager with his family in the United States in 1979. They left in the midst of the Islam Revolution in Iran and received asylum, settling in Washington.

But in 1986, Abbasian was charged with delivering cocaine. He pleaded guilty in 1987 and was sentenced to two months of work release and 200 hours of community service.

His attorney notified the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Seattle, which took no action.

In the years since, Abbasian has worked for Trident Seafoods, mostly in Akutan, a community on an Aleutian Island east of Unalaska. Abbasian moved up from a mess hall job to assistant manager of the 800-employee plant.

He waited almost 10 years to apply for citizenship, until 1996, so that he could show he was a good person. An FBI criminal background check did not turn up any record but Abbasian listed the conviction on his citizenship petition.

No decision was made on his citizenship application for about three years. Then last year, the INS sought to deport him, based on the one-time conviction.

''It blew me away,'' Abbasian said. He told his bosses, who sent him to Anchorage and Seattle for legal help.

Dozens of letters poured into the INS pleading for Abbasian to get a break.

''No one in Akutan is more respected than Dave. He has developed systems that allow us to produce 5 to 10 percent more food from each pound of fish,'' wrote Akutan plant manager Bret Joines in 1998.

The matter was before an immigration judge when the INS decided to drop it last month.

''He came here as a child. He's a Baha'i. He's from a country that persecutes Baha'is. There certainly has been rehabilitation. It seemed fundamentally unfair to me. Deportation seemed very harsh at this point,'' said Robert Eddy, head of the INS in Anchorage.

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