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Iranian-American Lawmaker Warns of Rising Xenophobia as U.S.-Iran Tension Escalates

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In the midst of escalating U.S.-Iran tensions, Border Patrol has been detaining Iranian Americans at the U.S.-Canada border. At least 100 people were delayed at ports of entry along the border over the weekend, following the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani on January 3. For response, we speak with Anna Eskamani, Florida Democratic state representative of Orlando. She is the first Iranian American to be elected to any public office in Florida. “The reality is that when we see the potential war rise in countries like Iran … we’ll see xenophobia rise right here locally” in the U.S., Eskamani says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Florida state Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando. She is the first Iranian American to be elected to any public office in Florida.

Representative Eskamani, I want to thank you for being with us. And I was wondering if you can respond to the latest situation that we’ve been learning about on the border, as details are emerging about how Border Patrol detained and questioned as many as 200 Iranian Americans at the U.S.-Canada border over the weekend. New York Times reporting some of them detained were — were detained for hours, including being interrogated about their opinions on the United States and the situation with Iran. Apparently, many had gone to Vancouver for — whole families, for a Persian pop concert.

REP. ANNA ESKAMANI: Correct, correct, yeah. Well, thank you so much for having me. And I also just want to echo the previous speaker’s points around nationalism rising in Iran and how there continues to be a demand for a true democratic government in Iran, but a desire not to go to war. And that is a very big difference between what the people in Iran want right now, based on talking to my family.

In regards to the border, we saw this happen in action on social media as families began sharing their stories of being stopped and questioned at the border. And the reality is that when we see the potential war rise in countries like Iran between the United States, we’ll see xenophobia rise right here locally. And whether it’s through different rhetoric on the internet or state-sanctioned questioning from customs and border control, it becomes really, really scary and problematic to be an Iranian American in this country.

And I was very pleased to see solidarity coming from other Americans standing side by side those who have been treated this way, and, of course, members of Congress, like, stepping up to ensure that answers are found on what exactly took place and that justice is served for those who are seeking it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said that Trump’s policies have been catastrophic not just for U.S.-Iran relations, but also for any kind of democratic reform within Iran.

REP. ANNA ESKAMANI: It’s been very problematic. I mean, I have opposed President Trump’s policies from day one, and whether it was the travel ban, which selectively chose Muslim-majority countries, Iran included, making it much more difficult for Iranians to travel to this country, to attend our universities, to engage in American democracy, whether it was the economic warfare through really extreme sanctions, prohibiting even humanitarian needs going to Iran, all the way to the rise of hate crimes in this country, as we’re seeing not just with Iranian Americans, but other groups, as well.

The reality, too, is that if the Trump administration truly cared about the people of Iran, he wouldn’t toss around the idea of attacking cultural sites, which allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to use as propaganda to help build those crowds during these funerals. And so, unfortunately, our president continues to be irresponsible with his rhetoric, lacking complete strategy. And I don’t think he and his administration expected this type of reaction from Iran.

However, I remain hopeful for de-escalation. It was very scary to watch everything take place last night. But I’m very hopeful that members of Congress will ensure that there is accountability and oversight and that we prevent going to war with Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Florida state Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando, the first Iranian American to be elected in the state of Florida, and Ali Kadivar, who is assistant professor at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts, also Juan Cole, professor of history at University of Michigan.

When we come back, we go to Puerto Rico, where a 6.4 magnitude earthquake has rocked the island, sparking a massive power outage. We’ll go to that in a second.

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