My 24-Year Vacation in America – Escaping the Iranian Revolution

The following is the story of Mehron Azarmehr’s immigration to the U.S., his struggles, successes and dedication to helping others from all over the world to find their places here.

In August of 1979, Parvis Azarmehr, a general officer in the Iranian Army, made a momentous decision for his youngest son, Mehron. As political tensions reached a feverish pitch in Tehran, he and his family faced a dangerous and uncertain future. Professional military personnel were pinchered between old alliances to the Shah, supported by the West, and the revolutionary masses, encouraged by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his fundamentalist clerics in Paris.

Mehron was 14 when he arrived in Denton, Texas to spend a couple of months with his older brother, a college student at North Texas State University. His parents gave him $150 to spend on his “vacation‟, a sum he thought more than generous for a carefree summer abroad. Almost 25 years later, Mehron sits in his offices in Austin, Texas and reminisces about those times. “It never occurred to me that I would remain in the United States and that my ”vacation money‟ would be the last payment I would ever receive from home”.

Back in Iran, the political cacophony intensified and Mehron‟s father was sentenced to death by a firing squad. As the Azarmehr family held their breath, it was decided, at the last moment, that his father‟s skills might be useful to the new regime and he was pardoned for one year. For a long time thereafter, General Azarmehr would be given annual extensions of the pardon until he finally retired and was no longer considered a threat to the state.

Meanwhile, Mehron struggled to adjust to his family’s seismic circumstances. Within the span of a couple of months, his fate had been dramatically and irrevocably transformed. The homeland of his childhood was gone forever and the homeland of his future was completely foreign to him. Mehron‟s brother immediately enrolled him in a local high school, quite an accomplishment for a young university student with an even younger brother. They both also worked whenever they weren’t studying, sharing chores and responsibilities.

Even while Mehron wrestled with the English language, he excelled in academics and graduated from high school at the age of 16, two years before his peers. In our interview, he also hastens to add that his education in Iran was superior to the public education systems of the State of Texas, a common experience for many immigrants from developed nations.

Working three jobs, he applied and was accepted to North Texas State University – where he received a Bachelor‟s of Arts in Economics in 1985 and a Masters in Economics in 1987. Somehow – and we can only guess when he found the time – Mehron also met Heather Sholty – the woman who would one day become his wife.

Upon graduation from the University with a Masters in Economics, he landed a job in Washington, D.C. with the World Bank. His work there was fascinating – the research and presentation of ideas that could affect millions of lives in countries all over the world was challenging. Mehron enjoyed the work immensely and learned plenty of valuable lessons – including the revelation that large organizations such as the World Bank move at an elephantine pace.

At the impatient age of 25, he was eager to see the results of his work and he began to explore other career options. Finally deciding upon the study of law, he returned to Texas determined to attend the University of Texas in Austin. Not coincidentally, Heather also happened to be attending graduate school in Texas – earning her Masters in Art History at the prestigious Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. Soon after Mehron returned to Texas, he and Heather were married – in May of 1990.
Mehron was discouraged but not defeated when the University of Texas rejected his application. Instead, he enrolled at St. Mary‟s University, the oldest and largest Catholic University in the state – situated in the city of San Antonio – 45 minutes South of Austin.
During his first year of study, Mehron‟s reputation as a diligent and promising student grew – and at the beginning of the second semester, he was granted an audience with the newly installed Dean of the Law School. After exchanging introductions and pleasantries, Mehron requested her help in transferring to the University of Texas in Austin. The following semester, he started attending classes there as a visiting student. He received a University of Texas School of Law Public Interest Presidential Scholarship and graduated from St. Mary‟s School of Law with a Degree in Juris Doctorate in 1992.

Although there is no doubt that Mehron is a persuasive and articulate young professional, he attributes these kinds of successes to perhaps more valuable qualities he inherited from his forefathers – tenacity and adaptability.

His grandfather immigrated from Azerbaijan in 1930, settling in Tehran to open a grocery store and raise his family, including a son who would rise to the rank of General in the Iranian Army.
Perhaps their long history of navigation in the turbulent political waters of Iran instilled these kinds of qualities in the Azarmehr family. Whatever the roots, it is exactly these qualities that translate to success in the United States.

While attending the University of Texas Law School, Mehron worked as a clerk for a Justice at the Texas Supreme Court. After graduating from the law school, he worked as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas – prosecuting cases against corporate polluters. In 1996, he began practicing immigration law at the firm of Gardere & Wynne, L.L.P., in Dallas.

As Mehron gained experience in immigration law, he realized that he wanted to devote his career to immigration law – assisting others – like himself – to build their lives in the U.S. He also recognized the enormous potential of an immigration law practice serving the Texas business community:

Bordering Mexico and the rest of Latin America on the South, Texas is home to 469 miles of the total 1,421 miles of Interstate Highway 35 that stretch from Mexico – through the U.S. – to Canada. Over one-half of all goods traded between these two countries is carried by trucks on this major artery of the U.S. highway system.

Historically, Texas has been the destination for millions of immigrants from Mexico and other countries of Latin America – legally and otherwise. With the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and the lowering of trade barriers, trade among the three nations more than doubled in 8 years – from US$297 billion to US$622 billion in 2001.

So, in 1998, Mehron decided to start his own immigration practice in Austin – a considerable risk for a family man with 2 young children – but Heather encouraged and supported him and once again, the Azarmehr family adapted.

Mehron found an affordable office downtown – in the Texas State Teachers‟ Association Building. Each time his clients arrived for an appointment – they were forced to undergo a curious security check before someone from Mehron‟s office arrived to escort them to his office. (Author‟s note: As one of Mehron‟s clients, I never understood what the Texas State Teachers‟ Association could have been protecting so diligently).

Despite the inconvenience, Mehron‟s clientele grew rapidly and he and Heather – who had volunteered to manage the office part-time – were soon working 60 and 70 hour weeks while raising their young children. In 2000, Azarmehr & Associates occupied 5 offices on the 3rd floor of the building and they were running out of room to expand when Mehron made another bold move – to buy his own office building. Marshalling their courage, Mehron and Heather gambled all of their hard earned gains on their ability to succeed. The bet paid off.

In 2001, the Greater Austin International Coalition selected Mehron and another attorney, John Fitzpatrick, to present findings and recommendations at their Conference: “Going Global: A Call to Action Conference” on International Work Force Issues.
In the same year, the television program Nightline, of ABC News, followed Mehron on one his recruiting trips to San Luis Potosi, Mexico – where he demonstrated how businesses that could not find a sufficient work force in Texas could legally and economically hire Mexican citizens.

U.S. officials were also keenly interested in Mehron‟s pilot program – for years, unethical businesses – on both sides of the border – had preyed upon Mexican citizens by offering illegal visas at exorbitant prices.
As Mehron points out: “This is one of those rare moments in history when you have a win-win situation – it‟s good for the workers, it’s good for the companies, and it brings the two governments together.”

Since the first day Mehron opened his offices, he has succeeded in bringing hundreds of citizens of other countries to the U.S. – including many from the Former Soviet Union. His personal experiences as an immigrant – as well as his love of the country that afforded him so many opportunities, uniquely qualify him to serve his clients with the utmost respect and care.

When MAKC International decided to include a monthly column dedicated to immigration law, we wanted to find the best. Mehron graciously and immediately accepted the post – in keeping with his ongoing efforts to educate and assist those who would like to follow in his footsteps. To better serve his readership, Mehron has hired an assistant, Polina ________, a graduate student at the University of Texas whose parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1989. Offered a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship at Southern Methodist University, she decided to pursue a degree in Economics at the University of Texas in Austin instead – much like her mentor.

More Than a Wordsmith