Tension has been high between the United States and Iran with the recent announcement of a nuclear arms deal. Many people were hopeful that the agreement would spur the release of three Americans who have been detained and imprisoned in Iran, including Flint native, Amir Hekmati. However, so far these prisoners have not been released. Luckily, Amir has a friend in Congressman Dan Kildee. Kildee, who has for years fought for Amir’s release, shared with My City Magazine what he and his staff have been doing to make sure Amir knows that he is not – and will not be – forgotten.
Amir has been imprisoned for almost four years. While he has never personally met Amir, Congressman Kildee feels a close connection with him. “I consider him a member of my extended family,” admits the Congressman. He relates to Amir because, like himself, Amir was a just a typical kid growing up in Flint. Congressman Kildee played hockey at Northern High School, and Amir played hockey at Central.
As a result of this connection, Congressman Kildee has been a powerful voice on Amir’s behalf, and there isn’t a day that passes when the Congressman or a staff member doesn’t speak to a member of the Hekmati family. “There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t talk with one of them,” he says. The situation has recently become more urgent, as Amir’s father, Dr. Ali Hekmati, a former professor at Mott Community College, continues to battle brain cancer and has recently had several strokes. “This makes the situation even more difficult,” admits Congressman Kildee, “Ali fears he will never see his son again.” Amir’s parents live in the Flushing area, as does his sister Sarah and her husband, Dr. Ramy Kurdi. Amir also has a sister, Leila, who lives in New York.
“I can’t imagine sitting in a prison cell each day. If he were my son, I would want Amir to know that we have not forgotten him.”
Amir’s story began in 2011, when he traveled to Iran to visit his grandmother for the first time. His plans to return home and attend the University of Michigan came to a standstill when he was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran on false charges of being an American spy. Congressman Kildee was elected to office in 2012, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Dale Kildee, and is currently serving his second term. Since he took office, Dan and his staff have been passionately involved in fighting for Amir’s release.
According to the Congressman, one primary concern is Amir’s psychological state. Amir has lost 30 pounds since his imprisonment, and the Congressman and Amir’s family continue to worry about his mental well-being. Congressman Kildee has taken many steps to bring Amir’s plight to the surface; he has met with President Obama on a number of occasions and has spoken directly with Secretary of State, John Kerry. “We have also done a lot of public advocacy to keep Amir’s case in the public eye,” says Congressman Kildee. Kildee sent Amir a letter in prison, which he believes Amir did receive. It is also believed that Amir is aware of the work that Kildee has been doing on his behalf. Congressman Kildee recently appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, one of many interviews he has done to raise awareness of Amir’s case. Congress has also taken action to increase awareness of Amir’s case. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously supported a resolution introduced by Congressman Kildee, calling on Iran to release Amir and the other Americans from Iran. “A whole lot of people are fighting for Amir’s freedom and will not give up,” Congressman Kildee said. “I can’t imagine sitting in a prison cell each day like Amir. I think of him as if he was my own son, and I would want him to know that we have not forgotten about him.”
Amir’s family is very appreciative of the Congressman’s support. In a statement, the Hekmati family says, “We are extremely grateful for Congressman Kildee’s continued efforts to bring our son and brother Amir home from Iran. He has fought tirelessly for Amir’s freedom since coming to Congress, and our family is forever grateful for his unyielding support. The bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress which he has organized calling for Iran to release Amir gives us hope and strength.”
Congressman Kildee believes there is a role for every citizen to help free Amir. “Iran pays attention to Facebook, Twitter and other media outlets,” the Congressman says. “Every citizen can use social media to call for Amir’s release.” This past January at the President’s State of the Union Address, Congressman Kildee left his guest seat empty for Amir. His hope is that next year, that chair will not be empty. “We won’t rest until Amir and the two other Americans are released from Iran,” declares Congressman Kildee. “The first person I invite to sit in that guest chair will be Amir. I hope that will happen next January.”
- July 17, 2013
- Writes a bipartisan letter, co-signed by 112 Members of Congress, to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging for the U.S. to continue prioritizing Amir’s release.
- September 18, 2013
- Launches the “Free Amir” campaign. In subsequent days, 80 Members of Congress take and post photos with a “Free Amir” sign calling for Amir’s release.
- September 18, 2013
- Writes a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, about Amir’s continued captivity in advance of the U.N. General Assembly, for which Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, is in New York.
- September 25, 2013
- Makes a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives highlighting Amir’s continued detainment and calling for Iran to release him.
- September 30, 2013
- The President, for the first time in 34 years, speaks with the President of Iran, mentioning Amir Hekmati. In response, Congressman Kildee issues a statement calling the conversation a “significant event” and saying “recent overtures from Iran have led to restrained optimism that it seeks to improve its diplomatic relationship with the United States.”
- October 9, 2013
- Speaks with President Obama at the White House regarding Amir.
- November 15, 2013
- Sends a personal letter to Amir Hekmati in Evin prison, saying in part, “I am certain there have been dark days, but I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that I, along with your family, are doing everything we can to get you home.”
- November 19, 2013
- Publishes an op-ed in The Guardian saying that “Iran can show it has truly changed by releasing Amir Hekmati.”
- January 28, 2014
- Speaks with President Obama about Amir after the State of the Union address, as well as Ambassador Power and Secretary Kerry.
- February 18, 2014
- Meets with Ambassador Power in New York. Afterward, the Ambassador tweets “Tx @RepDanKildee 4 work 2 #FreeAmir Hekmati. All Americans missing/held in Iran should be allowed to come home safely.”
- May 19, 2014
- Leads a vigil with Amir’s family outside the White House, marking Amir’s 1,000th day of captivity in Iran.
- May 21, 2014
- Calls on Iran to release Amir and rejoin the international community on the House Floor.
- July 17, 2014
- As negotiations between the U.S. and Iran over the country’s nuclear program continue, Congressman Kildee comments in a statement that he “cannot fathom how this is possible if they continue to hold American political prisoners like Amir under false pretenses.”
- September 20, 2014
- Writes an open letter to the French, German, Chinese, British and Russian Ambassadors to the United Nations, calling on them to encourage their Iranian U.N. counterpart to release Amir.
- September 29, 2014
- Congressman Kildee and the Hekmati family meet with Ambassador Power in New York to discuss Amir’s continued captivity.
- January 20, 2015
- At the State of the Union Address, Congressman Kildee leaves his guest seat empty for Amir to draw national attention to his case. On President Obama’s walk into the House Chamber to deliver the speech, Congressman Kildee raises Amir’s case with him.
- March 20, 2015
- As President Obama issues a written statement advocating for the release of Amir and other Americans Iran is holding, Congressman Kildee releases a statement yet again calling on Iran to release Amir.
- April 6, 2015
- Appears on Fox News with Greta Van Susteren, the first of several nationally televised “On the Record” appearances to continue raising awareness of Amir’s imprisonment.
- April 14, 2015
- Speaks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to raise awareness about Amir’s imprisonment and call for his release from Evin Prison.
- April 30, 2015
- Introduces a resolution in the U. S. House of Representatives expressing the sense of Congress that Iran should release immediately all Americans it holds, including Amir. Over 150 Members of Congress from across the political spectrum quickly sign on as co-sponsors.
- June 2, 2015
- Speaks before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on Amir’s continued imprisonment and the other Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran. Following the hearing, the Committee unanimously passes Congressman Kildee’s resolution calling for Iran to free Amir and the other Americans it holds.
- June 15, 2015
- The U.S. House of Representatives passes H.Res. 233, Congressman Kildee’s resolution calling on Iran to release Amir and any other American that it holds, in a unanimous 391-0 vote.
- June 23, 2015
- Appears on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss his congressional resolution and his continued efforts to help secure Amir’s release.
Photography by Mike Naddeo