Facts need to be added to the furor aroused by the spectacle of more than 170 arrested Iranian demonstrators being transported in handcuffs and leg irons from Washington to prison in upstate New York. The image by itself is a provocative one. It gives the Ayatollah Khomeini another excuse to castigate the United States. It could give Americans a feeling of getting back at the country holding their countrymen hostage -- or a concern about whether their government is fully protecting the rights of all under its jurisdiction. Attorneys at the Washington law firm of former Senator Abourezk reportedly concluded that police officers adn other authorities "illegally assaulted" and "illegally arrested" Iranians on July 27 when the present episode began.
But the facts of the situation, as obtained from official sources, provide a calming perspective. It suggests that, despite various retaliatory steps against Iranians in the US, Washington does not intend to countenance physical mistreatment of them. The reportedly genuine fears in Iran on this score should not be inflamed. When charges of mistreatment were made by Tehran before diplomatic relations were broken, the State Department is said to have invited inquiry on specific incidents and promised to investigate them. No inquiries came from Tehran. Now the State Department is in touch with Iran. It welcomes United Nations investigation. Lawyers, doctors, and others have had access to check on the condition of the arrested Iranians.
Washington police disorderly conduct charges against the Iranians were dropped after they had been held for five days, the normal sentence on such a charge. The federal government held the men who were moved to upstate New York, plus 20 women who were moved to Manhattan, on suspicion of violating immigration law. The suspicion is due to the refusal by most of them to give their names or documentation of their status. The Immigration and Naturalization Service said that anyone stating his name and found not to be violating his visa will be released, as some at this writing were already applying to be.
Failure to give truthful answers to questions by immigration authorities is itself reason for deportation under a recent INS regulation. The Iranians' refusal to give any information brings into play another rule. It places the burden of proof on an alien to show time and place of entry and other information to identify his legal status. Otherwise he shall be presumed to be in violation.
Seventeen women refused an offer of voluntary return to Iran with expenses paid by the US government. The men were expected to do the same. The next step was to be serving them with orders to show cause why they should be allowed to stay in the US. If they do not comply, a deportation hearing would be scheduled. After the decision an appeal would be possible.
It appears that procedures are being followed that should not be inflammatory. It was unfortunate to raise the questions presented by transportation in leg irons after what Washington corrections officials reportedly called the generally cooperative attitude of the Iranians. Now every care should be taken to carry through the procedures in a just manner.