January 14, 2016
One can get extremely down and cynical if their brother is unjustly imprisoned while on vacation in a foreign country. The days are long, hope ebbs and flows and there are more bad days than good. I, however, am writing about a good day—one that gives me some hope.
My brother Amir Hekmati has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran for 1,598 days, the longest an American has been held in Iran in history. A dubious distinction, unfortunately.
As I write this, I am on my way home to Michigan from Washington, D.C. My Congressman, Dan Kildee, invited me to be his guest at the State of the Union speech.
Four and a half years ago, my brother went to Iran to visit our aging grandmother. He had the permission of Iranian officials. They were aware of his Marine service in Iraq and assured him it would not be a problem. They granted him a visa.
A few weeks into the trip, he was arrested and thrown in a small, damp cell. He has endured unspeakable hardship.
As we have been able to communicate with him more of late, his voice sounds frailer by the day. But I try not to lose hope.
To understand our pain, you have to understand the pride that our parents—who came to America from Iran not as exiles but as dreamers, seeking a better life and the American dream. And they found it.
As first generation Americans, my brother and I grew up with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities we were afforded in this country.
That same gratitude inspired Amir to serve his country and enlist in the Marines. Now, with Amir gone since 2011, my father’s dying wish (he has brain cancer) is to embrace his only son, his Amir, once more.
When Congressman Kildee invited me to attend the State of the Union, ten days ago, I must say I was extremely excited but also overwhelmed. There was only one ticket, so I knew I would be without my husband, who is my rock. I knew I would have to leave my two young children behind. But I also knew I owed it to my brother and our family to attend.
Then, early this week, I felt joy. Montel Williams, who has been a fierce advocate for our family and Amir, connected us with Congressman Matt Salmon, who graciously offered his ticket to the speech so that my husband could join me. Things were starting to align.
To top it off, Speaker Ryan and his staff graciously arranged for to me to sit together with my husband—difficult to arrange, given that each member gets only one guest. So, at this point, three United States Congressmen had helped me and my family tremendously.
My family has always seen Amir’s case as an American issue, not a partisan one; that is why we found such encouragement and hope in the incredible bipartisan cooperation that got us to Washington, D.C. and other things like a resolution introduced by Congressman Kildee this past summer that called on Iran to "release all detained Americans immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any Americans that have disappeared within its borders ” that passed with bipartisan support.
Before the speech, we met with Congressman Kildee and his amazing staff. We spent time in the Capitol building; there really was an air of anticipation. Speaker Ryan was gracious enough to ask us to meet with him so we went to the office of the Speaker of the House.
Sitting in the gallery, witnessing the pomp and circumstance and listening to the speech was an an honor. But, more important, was what led us to this moment of sitting in the Capitol among members of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court.
And that is: Republican and Democrats working together to help us. Republican and Democrats expressing support for my brother. That is worth a lot. And maybe this will mean that our government – Congress, the State Department, the White House and all of our other agencies and resources – will make 2016 the year that they all fight together for Amir and bring this marine home.
This gave me hope. His father is waiting. And that is why I had a good day.
Sarah Hekmati is the sister of former U. S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly four and a half years.