LOS ANGELES - In the heart of Persian Square, in West Los Angeles, everyone is getting ready for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, when family members visit each other.Normally it’s the busy season for the travel agencies that cater to the Iranian community.
But not this year.
“They ask us questions more than they make reservation,” said Sherry Tahouri, owner of Shahrezad Tour and Travel.
Tahouri caters mostly to the Iranian Community in Los Angeles, many of whom still have family in Iran.
President Donald Trump’s revised executive order banning travelers who do not currently have visasfrom six Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S. for three months is scheduled to take effect on March 16.Among the six countries on the travel order is Iran.
Even before it takes effect, the order is disrupting Nowruz travel plans. “Most people when they purchase their ticket, they are purchasing a non-refundable ticket, the lowest fare and in that case, they were asking, 'We need our refund because we’re scared to go there. We don’t want to go,'” said Farhad Besharati, owner of Travel ATT.
He said Iranian Americans, even those who are U.S. citizens are afraid to travel or go to Iran because of Trump’s executive order.Even though it doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens, they fear another change in thetravel rules.
“It’s about 40 years after Iran’s revolution. A lot of people that are here, their relatives getting older and older, so they cannot (see them),” said journalist Reza Goharzad.
'State sponsor of terrorism'
According to the executive order:“Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and continues to support various terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas and terrorist groups in Iraq…Iran does not cooperate with the United States in counterterrorism efforts.”
Trump supporters applaud the measure.
”We’ve been invaded by, you know, refugees from all over, you know from Europe and, you know, from our – from countries like Syria and Iran. And we – they have to be vetted, they have to be,” insisted Palm Springs resident Maureen Martin.
But Iranian Americans have never been the source of terrorism in the United States, said journalist Goharzad. “Terror happened in the United States happened by Saudi Arabians. Happened by people from Pakistan, happened by people from different countries, Muslim countries that are not on the list, and they are allied to the United States.”
While Iran is not a U.S. ally, Goharzad said many of its people are. "You have to separate the government’s account with the people.My people they are under the big pressure of the dictatorship in Iran. So, don’t put government’s fault on the people.”
Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California (USC), points out that Muslims are not the only Iranians likely to be caught up in the travel order.
“We have a very large Iranian community here in Los Angeles, including a large Iranian Jewish community and a large Iranian Bahai community,” he said.
Rose Youssefi is in the medical field and said the order's effect on Iranian students will be "devastating."
“There’s a lot of students in medicine have been caught and can’t come back. They have pending residencies, pending degrees waiting for them and they can’t return," she says. "It’s not fair at all. It’s heart breaking.”
Travel agency owner Besharati said that pending any action in the courts - the travel order is being contested by a number of states- there is nothing to do but be patient with President Trump’s order.
“We have to give him a chance for some months, some time, at least maybe he can prove he was right about this decision.”
In the meantime, journalist Goharzad seeks solace and wisdom from Persian poet Hafez.
“He says it never stay the same way as it was, and it will not stay the same way as it is. Everything will change.”