Iranian scientist in US detention says Ice will let COVID-19 kill many

TEHRAN, Mar. 27 (MNA) – An Iranian scientist Dr. Sirous Asgari who was exonerated in a US sanctions trial but remains jailed by immigration authorities said the conditions in detention were filthy and overcrowded and officials were doing little to prevent a deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor was acquitted in November on federal charges of stealing trade secrets related to his academic work with a university in Ohio. Although the US government lost its case on all charges, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) has kept him indefinitely detained since the trial. Now he’s speaking out about the “inhumane” treatment that could cost him his life.

He told the Guardian that his Ice holding facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, had no basic cleaning practices in place and continued to bring in new detainees from across the country with no strategy to minimize the threat of Covid-19.

In a phone call from the Alexandria Staging Facility (ASF), he said he believed the only safe option would be to shut down the facility due to the deplorable conditions. ASF is a 400-bed site where people are supposed to be detained for no more than 72 hours, typically a final stop before they are deported.

He added that but with Covid-19 travel restrictions and flight cancellations, Ice has been holding people for days on end in cramped bunkbeds alongside new arrivals who may have been exposed to the virus.

Asgari arrived at ASF on 10 March and has been seeking to voluntarily “self deport” to Iran. Ice has refused to let him fly home or be temporarily released with his family in the US.

“The way Ice looks at these people is not like they are human beings, but are objects to get rid of,” said Asgari, a professor at the Sharif University of Technology, a public university in Tehran, adding, “The way that they have been treating us is absolutely terrifying. I don’t think many people in the US know what is happening inside this black box.”

Asgari said, “There was not enough food. There is only one hot meal at 5pm and two smaller meals at breakfast and lunch, and no way to purchase any other food. There are six showers for his pod, and people have a hard time getting clean and can’t access clean clothes.”

The professor said that the conditions at the facility were unbearable for long-term stays. New detainees are brought in at all hours, meaning it’s impossible to get sleep in his pod, where there can be up to 100 people in bunk beds in a single room. He puts toilet paper in his ears but has struggled to get any rest and now has a sleep disorder.

According to Guardian, the situation is particularly worrying for Asgari, who is at risk of getting pneumonia if an infection like Covid-19 reaches his lungs. Given the conditions at ASF and treatment of detainees, if he were to get coronavirus there, “I don’t think I would survive,” he said.

Advocates said Asgari’s case was especially troubling given that there was no legal justification or logic to his continued detention. He arrived in the US in 2017 with his wife and with valid passports and visas but upon arrival discovered he was being prosecuted by the US government for alleged violations of sanctions law.

MNA/FNA 13990108000241

News Code 157056

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