Hostages of the Crisis: Iranian Students and Jimmy Carter

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





Randall B. Woods

Committee Member

Joel Gordon

Second Committee Member

Patrick Williams


Deportation, Diplomacy, Hostage Crisis, Immigration, Iran, Jimmy Carter


Hostages of the Crisis: Iranian Students and Jimmy Carter discusses President Carter’s decision in 1979 to order the Immigration and Naturalization Service to assess the approximately 56,000 Iranian students in the United States for deportation after the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran, Iran. This works begins with a discussion of the development of the nation’s immigration system, examining how it was born as a result of anti-Chinese xenophobia in the late nineteenth century and how it matured with nativistic immigration laws in the first half of the twentieth century. Immigration policy was often influenced by xenophobic sociopolitical pressure and geopolitical necessity, and I argue that Carter’s directive to INS was no exception. This work demonstrates the development of human rights as a political tool in the 1970s and how Carter came to sincerely embrace it. He has often and correctly been praised as the human rights President. However, I agree with scholars like Scott Kaufman, Nancy Mitchell, and Bradley Simpson in that Carter was a Cold Warrior first and a human rights President second. As demonstrated by Matthew Shannon, many Iranian student activists in the United States understood this well. I attempt to build off his work by illustrating their activism during the early Carter presidency and how their publications and protests had already gained them the ire of many Americans before the hostage crisis began. Ultimately, I assert that Carter’s directive to INS was an important component of his administration’s diplomatic strategy to retrieve the American hostages in Tehran, and that his order seemingly encouraged the anti-immigrant and nativistic portions of the American population to direct their anger toward Iranian students

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