A gay Iranian man who has a green card and works in the San Francisco Bay area as a chemical engineer was detained by U.S. Customs agents Sunday morning while disembarking from a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale at the conclusion of a seven-day gay cruise.
Maysam Sodagari, 32, who has lived in the U.S. for the past nine years, is believed to be the first known case of a cruise ship passenger getting caught up in President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration issued Jan. 27.
The order temporarily banned refugees and immigrants, including visa and green card holders, from entering the U.S. from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Iran.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sought to quell confusion over the order during an interview Sunday morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, when he said the order “doesn’t include green card holders going forward.”
Sodagari received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Akron in Ohio in 2013, according to his LinkedIn page, which says he received his bachelor’s degree also in chemical engineering at the University of Tehran in 2007.
Wayne Sobon, one of his friends from San Francisco, told the Washington Blade that Sodagari obtained U.S. political asylum at some point after first entering the U.S.
Sodagari gave a first-hand account of his concern over being confronted with the Trump executive order in several Facebook postings beginning Saturday, expressing concern that he might be forced to return to Iran.
Human rights activists have reported that Iranian authorities are known to have executed people accused of committing homosexual acts.
“I left the port with a legal status for a Gay Cruise,” he wrote in one of his postings on the day before the cruise ship Allure of the Seas was scheduled to arrive at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale after touring several Caribbean islands.
“Now I may not be able to enter the U.S. tomorrow,” he wrote in that posting. “My future is all unclear just by a sudden change in the law. If I get detained and sent back to Iran, at least I lived the life to the fullest as a gay man in the U.S., and I want to thank you all [for] being part of the experience.”
Upon the ship’s arrival in port Sunday morning, Sodagari posted a series of short reports saying he was told he had to undergo an interview with customs officials and was waiting for about two hours. Finally, about three hours after saying he had been detained, he stated in a post, “I am free to go back home.”
Later in the day he told the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel the customs officials who questioned him were “very nice, friendly, and professional.”
Friends of Sodagari’s from San Francisco, D.C., and the Fort Lauderdale area scrambled to find him legal help after he contacted them prior to the ship’s arrival in Fort Lauderdale. One of the friends told the Washington Blade that they reached out to LGBT-supportive members of Congress to see if they might lend support if customs officials attempted to deport Sodagari.
The Miami Herald reported that Jamie Alejandro, director of the LGBT group OUT Miami, posted a photo of him and another friend with Sodagari from the LGBT enclave of Wilton Manors, which is located next to Fort Lauderdale.
“I am happy to report that I’m here with Maysam and after being detained by Customs Border Patrol for three hours he is doing well and is in good spirits – obviously concerned and shaken up but doing well,” the Herald quoted the post as saying.
Sodagari’s LinkedIn page says he currently works as a senior fermentation associate for the international medical products company Grifols Diagnostic Solutions, which, among other things, produces life-saving blood-related components such as proteins and plasma.
Trump said the executive order was needed to prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the U.S. for an interim period while he arranges for heightened screening and vetting of refugees and immigrants from Middle East countries.
Several LGBT advocacy organizations joined immigration rights groups in condemning the order as a disguised attempt to ban Muslims from entering the country and a form of discrimination that would not be effective in preventing terrorists from gaining access to the U.S.