GRAND FORKS — An assistant professor at the University of North Dakota is fighting to remain in the United States after the Trump Administration designated a group he was involved in as a child as a foreign terrorist organization.
Mehdi Ostadhassan moved to the U.S. from Iran a decade ago to study at UND, where he eventually became an assistant professor of petroleum engineering. He says his fight with immigration authorities especially stings because of the work he has done in America.
"I feel that I've done a lot for the state, for the youth of the state (and) for this country," Ostadhassan said. "I've been contributing to the energy security of this country ... It is sad that I cannot be interacting with the students anymore."
Ostadhassan was born in Iran, and for the last five years, he has been fighting for his green card and has not been able to visit his family in his home country. The last time he left the U.S. was in 2014 when he and his wife visited Iran for their honeymoon.
"If I leave the country I won't be able to come back," he explains.
The trouble in part stems from Ostadhassan’s admission to authorities that as a child he was part of the youth wing of an Iranian organization called the Basij, a subsidiary group of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Millions are said to be involved in the paramilitary organization, which helps enforce the rules of Iran’s theocratic regime.
But Ostadhassan said that when he was young the Basij was the only option he had to be involved in civic life.
"When I was a student, the only available organization was the Basij because the Basij was responsible for cultural activities (and) religious activities," Ostadhassan told CNN in a story published in early October.
But his involvement with the group would later lead to immigration issues in the U.S. In 2019, the Trump Administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization and the decision impacted subsidiary organizations of the Guard, including the Basij.
Ostadhassan said his experience with the Basij was almost like being in Boy Scouts, and that many boys in Iran participated to some degree in the organization.
Still, his involvement has complicated the immigration process, and his work authorization has expired, putting his life at a standstill. Ostadhassan is unable to work or drive just weeks before his wife is set to give birth to their second child.
"That means that when I go into labor that I will have to drive myself or find some way to get to the hospital," said Bailey Bubach, Ostadhassan's wife.
If Ostadhassan has to leave the country it could split the family up.
"It makes me really upset sometimes because this is my home and I don't even have an option," Bubach said. "I really wanted to stay in North Dakota and stay here and raise my family here.”
Since the family’s story was covered by CNN, Ostadhassan has received support from people across the country. He says many people have reached out to him by email, with some offering help and money, though he hopes he can stay where he is.
"We decided to be in North Dakota and we would like to stay in North Dakota if obstacles are removed,” Ostadhassan said.
The family now hopes the state’s Congressional delegation will intervene on Ostadhassan’s behalf so he can remain in the country.
"(I hope) they can see the good things (we) have done for the state and are doing for the state, Ostadhassan said. “Maybe they can reach out to the current administration and they can help to resolve my situation."
WDAY News reached out to North Dakota Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong about the issue. Sen. Hoeven's office was the only one to respond, saying that he is aware of the case.