*The plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit is remaining anonymous for security reasons.
November 8, 2016, was one of the most important days of my life. It was the day my family and I had an interview that could determine whether or not we would leave Iran to build a new life in the United States.
For the third year in a row, I had applied to the U.S. Diversity Visa Program. It’s a visa lottery specifically for people from countries that don’t send a lot of immigrants to the United States. Only 50,000 diversity visas are awarded each year, out of approximately 14 million applications from across the world. Recipients are selected once a year at random. I knew families who had applied 15 times without being chosen, which translates to 15 years of waiting.
It was a Tuesday night in May when my wife and I logged onto the computer to check my application status. There it was on the screen — my name was chosen from among the millions. I had won the lottery. After the initial excitement, there was much to do. My family and I would need to pass all the required checks and have an interview at the U.S. embassy.
We also had to tell our relatives about our plan to move overseas, which was the hard part. Iranian families are close and very involved. I am an only child, and when my father passed away when I was 13 years old, I was my mother’s support. It would be difficult for her to see me move across the ocean. But we knew it was the right thing for us. As a mechanical engineer, I can find better work in the United States. Most importantly, I want to give my son and daughter the best education possible, as that will determine their futures.
The interview process was long and expensive. Because there is no American embassy in Iran, for our interview, we had to fly from Tehran to Yerevan, Armenia, where we stayed for 15 days. Our flights and hotel cost us thousands of dollars. But it was worth it when the consular officer told us that I had a very good case. He said we could expect to hear an answer in approximately three months.
On the same day as our interview, the United States elected a new president. While we waited to hear about our visa and make our plans, we heard the news of Donald Trump’s executive order that would stop people from Iran, like us, from entering the country. But we hoped to receive our visas in the meantime, so that we could begin our new life once the temporary entry ban expired.
Nine months later, we are still waiting. My wife and I are frozen, unable to make decisions about what to do next. I don’t know when to give notice to my work or if we should sell our house. I can no longer envision what the future holds for us. My kids want to learn English and ask me where our home will be. They want me to pick a state with weather like Iran. I have not told them the worst part yet, that our family is running out of time to make these American dreams a reality.
According to the visa program’s rules, my family’s once-in-lifetime chance expires on September 30. If our visas are not issued by that day, we lose our shot. We are in real danger of missing that deadline, because the State Department has decided not to issue visas while the executive order is in effect, even though the executive order only temporarily prevents us from entering the country, not from receiving our visas. The entry ban expires on September 24, six days before our clock runs out. Given the odds, I know that we won’t get this opportunity again.
I knew I had to do something to fight for my visa. I wondered whether anyone in America would care about our family’s dreams. I searched on the internet for help and found an email for a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. I wrote to ask if what was happening with our visas was legal. To my surprise, the lawyers answered. They explained that the executive order does not allow the State Department to hold my visa and deny my family our one chance to become Americans.
My case was filed on August 4, 2017. My wife and I can only hope that the U.S. embassies decide to follow their own rules before it’s too late.