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The Burden of Geopolitical Stigma: Iranian Immigrants and Their Adult Children in the USA

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The overall aim of this paper is to add several dimensions missing from current debates and scholarship on Iranian immigrants, migration, and belonging: The power of global political dynamics in stigmatizing migrants’ identities, the impact of geopolitics on migrants’ quality of life, and the disruptions to belonging and membership as a result of anti-Iranian prejudice. Through the use of in-depth interviews, I examine the experiences of 32 immigrant and second-generation Iranians residing in northern and southern California. The findings of this research demonstrate that the geopolitical relationship between the Iranian government and the USA powerfully impacts the lives of Iranians in the USA. Specifically, global politics facilitate a context that helps stigmatize Iranians’ identities and makes them more prone to experiencing social marginality, anti-Iranian prejudice, racial/ethnic profiling, and discrimination. Ultimately, these experiences put an effective cap on Iranians’ abilities to access opportunity structures and limit their access to belonging and social membership in the USA. An examination of the lived experiences of Iranian immigrants and their adult children offers important empirical and theoretical insight for the impact of contentious global political context on immigrant belonging and membership.

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  1. Bozorgmehr (2007) cites that the “Iranian Control Program” screened approximately 57,000 Iranian students to verify that they had legal status. Furthermore, each student had to register with the INS by mid-December 1979, have a valid visa, and provide proof of full-time school enrollment. Those who failed to comply with the INS were at risk for deportation.

  2. The Washington Post reported on December 28, 1979, that the US Appeals Court approved Iranian student deportations.

  3. Mahdavi (2006) argues that growing anti-Iranian prejudice in the USA during the revolution and hostage crisis made Iranians targets of discrimination.

  4. According to the US Department of State, Iran was designated a “State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984” and has “continued its terrorist-related activity, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and for Hezbollah.”

  5. The voluntary registration program was implemented in December, 2002. Up to 700 men and boys from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria were arrested in Southern California by federal immigration authorities after they voluntarily complied with the ‘call-in’ program (American Civil Liberties Union 2004; Mahdavi 2006).


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Correspondence to Sahar Sadeghi.

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Sadeghi, S. The Burden of Geopolitical Stigma: Iranian Immigrants and Their Adult Children in the USA. Int. Migration & Integration 17, 1109–1124 (2016).

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