Congressman Uses SOTU to Bring Attention to American Veteran Held In Iran

PHOTO: President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016.

While U.S.-Iran tensions are tested by Iran detaining 10 U.S. sailors on two small Navy boats Tuesday, one member of Congress and his constituents are waging a quiet battle to bring one American prisoner home.

Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American from Michigan, has been http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/exclusive-american-prisoner-iran-taunted-obamas-white-house/story?id=30623052 detained in Iran since August 2011, making him the longest-held American known to be imprisoned in Iran. He was sentenced to death in January 2012 for “espionage, waging war against god and corrupting the earth.”

His congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, left his State of the Union guest seat empty for Hekmati in 2015.

This year, he brought Hekmati’s sister Sarah as his guest, to make sure President Obama and members of Congress don’t forget about her brother.

“The most important guest I could bring would be Amir himself, but until he comes home, I'll have his sister and his brother-in-law here, just to make sure he's not forgotten,” Kildee told ABC News in an interview outside the House chamber before the State of the Union.

Sarah and her husband, Ramy Kurdi -- the State of the Union guest of Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona -- spent their latest trip to Washington meeting with members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, about Amir's plight.(Sarah had previously written to Ryan about her brother's imprisonment.)

While they were hoping to hear President Obama mention Amir in his final State of the Union address, the support from all corners of Congress has been encouraging.

"Everyone jokes about how there's discrepancies with how they, people can unite on both sides, but they agree that this is the one subject that they really have been able to come together for," Sarah said of Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

Kildee and the Hekmatis are hopeful that President Obama can secure Amir's release in his last 11 months in office, if not sooner.

"I've spoken to the president about Amir's case on many occasions, I'm convinced that he's doing everything he can, and it's my job to continue to put pressure both on the Iranian government but also on our own, to do everything we can," Kildee said. "When I've spoken to the president about Amir, I know he genuinely is concerned and wants to see him come home, so I suspect there are a lot of things he wants to make sure are taken care of before he leaves office and this is one of them."