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Falling bombs and a failing revolution forced 9-year-old Mehrsa Baradaran’s family to flee Iran in 1986.
They became refugees.
Her mother had been a political prisoner in anti-American Iran, but they weren’t sure the United States would accept them. After all, Baradaran had shouted “Death to America” twice a day with her Iranian elementary school classmates, as instructed by the Islamic Republic.
And the family was Muslim, immigrating from a terrorist country. In an essay on Slate.com published last weekend, Baradaran described her childhood fears about whether the United States would provide entry to such people.
“I understand that America took a risk on us,” she wrote, adding, “I was that little Muslim kid from a terrorist country ‘yearning to breathe free,’ and you took me in.”
Her essay did not describe another part of her story. The Baradarans joined the LDS Church soon after they arrived in Los Angeles. That event framed her view of the United States and informed her feelings this week about President Trump’s order restricting refugees and immigration, she told the Deseret News.
In fact, Trump’s order directly affected her family.
“For us, the church was America,” she said. “When we came to America as refugees, in 1986, the very first people who embraced us were Latter-day Saints who were open-minded and open-hearted. We were from a terrorist country then, but the church didn’t care.”
Missionaries had knocked on their door and invited them to a Christmas party. The following year, the Baradarans moved to Las Vegas with nothing. Fellow church members showed up with furniture, ornaments and encyclopedias, which the family devoured.
The family took root. Her father, a surgeon, established a medical practice. They became U.S. citizens. Baradaran’s own citizenship papers arrived while she was a missionary, so she had to leave her mission and travel to her home in New York to take the oath of citizenship. She wore her missionary badge.
Baradaran and her sister Shima earned law degrees and later both taught at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. Mehra is now a banking law professor at the University of Georgia. Shima teaches criminal law at the University of Utah.
The family has been affected by President Trump’s travel restrictions for refugees and people from Iran and six other predominently Muslim countries.
Baradaran’s grandfather died in early January. Her mother traveled back to Iran for his memorial service. Her children urged her to return before Trump’s inauguration.
“We hurried her back,” Baradaran said. “Iranians of dual nationality are being stopped and questioned. I’m not leaving the country for a while.”
Baradaran now will not see aunts and uncles who already had waited 15 years to receive green cards to visit America. They were arranging flights to the United States on those green cards when Trump issued his executive order. Initially, they were banned from entering the country. The Trump administration reversed its decision on Sunday, saying those with green cards can travel.
Baradaran’s aunts and uncles will wait.
“They don’t want to risk it and get stuck in an airport,” Baradaran said.
Baradaran expressed gratitude for Mormons who have spoken up about the executive order.
She said Mormon missionaries embrace diversity because they go all over the world and learn to understand other cultures. She served a Spanish-speaking mission in Houston, where she and her fellow missionaries, under the church’s direction, taught all immigrants who wanted the gospel, regardless of background.
“I hope the church can still be that moral compass for America,” she said.
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