The Department of Homeland Security still considers the brothers, who are opponents of Iran's Islamic government, national security threats with links to terrorism. The department has the authority to deport them because of alleged immigration violations
The Mirmehdi brothers had given other inmates all the books, candy and magazines they had accumulated over more than three years in jail. They had said their farewells and changed into the street clothes they hadn't worn since they were arrested soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But when the four Iranian immigrants met with Homeland Security officials on their way out Feb. 2, they could not accept all of the 13 conditions of release, some which they considered unconstitutional, unreasonable and insulting.
So they remain in a Los Angeles jail, despite court rulings that the brothers do not pose a threat to national security, and despite the passing of yesterday's deadline requiring that the government release them or provide new evidence of ties to terrorism.
"We are fighting for our freedom and for what we believe this country is based on – liberty and justice and constitutional rights," Mohammad Mirmehdi said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We believe we didn't do anything wrong. We live with dignity. That's why we don't accept any compromise to give up our rights."
The Department of Homeland Security still considers the brothers, who are opponents of Iran's Islamic government, national security threats with links to terrorism. The department has the authority to deport them because of alleged immigration violations.
With no country willing to accept them because of the terrorism label, the U.S. government attempted to comply with the deadline by releasing them under unusually strict conditions.
It is almost unheard of that inmates would balk at conditions, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Lori Haley, and because it's so rare, it's not clear what happens if the brothers don't relent.
"Our responsibility was to set reasonable conditions for release which we feel we've done," Haley said. "We don't know. It's sort of a new area here. So it's kind of hard to speculate on what will happen."
Haley said she could not comment on whether the department will negotiate with the Mirmehdis.
The brothers – Mohammad, 34, Mohsen, 38, Mojtaba, 41, and Mostafa, 45 – said they could accept some of the restrictions, including checking in with authorities regularly and not possessing weapons.
But a condition forbidding "criminal, espionage or terrorist activities" is insulting, the brothers said. They say the rule against traveling more than 30 miles from their home is problematic because they work as real estate agents. They also object to the prohibition on attending political demonstrations.
"The conditions they put for us is for aggravated felons," Mojtaba Mirmehdi said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We are not felons. We have done nothing wrong. If I'm not a national security threat, and not a danger to the community, why are you trying to deport me?"
The government has accused the brothers of being members of the Mujahadeen Khalq, a pro-democracy group dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's Islamic government. The organization was added to the government's list of terrorist organizations in 1997.
The brothers said they fear some of the conditions of release are meant to trick them and land them back in jail.
"Our main concern is that they know how to play with the words," Mohammad Mirmehdi said. "One of conditions is we cannot associate with known (Mujahadeen Khalq) members or supporters. Known to whom? To us, or to them? They should provide us with all the names so we don't deal with them."
The primary evidence against the brothers was a roster seized in February 2001 that the government said was a list of Mujahadeen Khalq cell members. The Mirmehdis said it was a list of people who planned to attend a legal demonstration in Denver in 1997 against the Iranian government.
Two of the brothers admitted attending that rally in 1997, six months before the Mujahadeen Khalq was put on list of terrorist organizations. A judge later ruled that their participation was protected by the First Amendment, and that the roster did not establish their purported membership in the group.
Their lawyer, Marc Van Der Hout, said the rule barring attendance at Mujahadeen Khalq demonstrations and associations with members or supporters means the brothers couldn't go near many members of Congress or former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who as a senator expressed support for the group's ideals.
"These restrictions I've never seen before," Van Der Hout said. "They are purely punitive and have nothing to do with any valid security or safety concerns."
The Mirmehdis were born in Tehran. The oldest brother came to the United States in 1978, and the others followed. They obtained work permits and became successful real estate agents in the San Fernando Valley until they ran into problems with immigration officials in 1999. They were arrested and faced deportation for visa irregularities and lying on political asylum applications.
They were granted bail and continued with their lives while they fought deportation. A month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as the government launched a crackdown on Middle Eastern immigrants accused of violating of immigration laws, bail was revoked and the government alleged they had new evidence that the Mirmehdi brothers were members of the Mujahadeen Khalq.
They have been in jail ever since, and the complicated case has moved at a snail's pace, with one court ruling contradicting another. Three brothers are on medication for depression. They have nightmares. Some have speech impediments brought on by stress. And they have become the longest-held post-Sept. 11 detainees in the country.
In August, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled the government did not prove that the Mirmehdis had links to terrorism and must release them within six months or prove its case. That decision started a six-month clock for the government to act, resulting in yesterday's deadline.
The brothers previously had been allowed to be interviewed by news organizations, including The San Diego Union-Tribune, in person at the San Pedro detention facility in Los Angeles.
The brothers said they were scheduled for an interview on ABC's "Nightline" program Feb. 3 – the day after the Department of Homeland Security attempted to release them. Though the brothers remained in jail, the interview never took place.
Subsequent requests for interviews by media organizations were denied because the brothers were no longer cooperative, said Haley, the Homeland Security spokeswoman.
"We have stopped facilitating in-person media interviews since the whole thing with their refusal to sign their orders of supervision," Haley said. "One of the conditions we allow interviews for is that they're cooperative as detainees. We find that refusing to sign is not being cooperative."
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