The National Iranian American Council is questioning why as many as 60 people of Iranian background were reportedly detained at the Peace Arch border crossing and other ports of entry last weekend as they attempted to cross from Canada into the United States.
The NIAC said some individuals – who were reportedly headed back to the U.S. after attending a Persian pop concert in Vancouver – were held in detention for up to 16 hours at the Peace Arch crossing and subjected to questioning as a result of their national heritage.
“We are still in the information-gathering stage, and cannot confirm details independently,” NIAC wrote to Peace Arch News on Sunday.
The reported border delays follow a pledge of retaliation from Iran after the U.S. killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike Friday in Baghdad.
Passengers travelling into the U.S. by air have reported similar experiences.
Iranian-Canadian Ali Kashani, from Vancouver, told PAN he was subjected to secondary-screening Saturday when flying to San Francisco from Vancouver International Airport.
“I could tell something was up because I wasn’t able to check in online prior to arriving at the airport. I fly this route almost every week,” Kashani wrote to PAN.
When Kashani arrived at YVR, he said he was put through additional airport screening. Once he passed through customs, officials from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sent him to a separate room for additional questioning, he said.
“The room was empty when I got there, but as I sat there were more Iranians (and only Iranians) … brought in. In my case, I have Nexus as well as the much coveted O1 visa (the so-called Einstein visa). So after 10 minutes they came back with my passport and let me leave. No interview or anything,” Kashani wrote.
US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Michael Friel told PAN via email Monday social media posts indicating that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing them entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false.
Reports that the Department of Homeland Security/CBP has issued a related directive are also false, he said.
The statement provided by CBP also included background information, stating that “CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
“Based on the current threat environment, CBP is operating with an enhanced posture at its ports of entry to safeguard our national security and protect the American people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone,” the statement reads.
However, Kashani called the statement, “complete nonsense.”
“They were clearly targeting us at multiple borders, one way or another,” Kashani said.
Following social media reports of the detentions, NIAC launched a social media campaign to connect with American-Iranian travellers who were detained at the Peace Arch border.
NIAC president, Jamal Abdi, said on Twitter that his organization has talked to Iranian-Americans detained for 12 hours at borders and airports. He said they were asked about their views on the political situation with Iran.
“A historian and American citizen were taken to a ‘special side room’ after landing at JFK Airport and asked ‘how I feel about the situation in Iran.’ He was subsequently released after questioning,” NIAC reported.
“There are additional unconfirmed reports of problems at San Francisco Airport (SFO) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).”
In a statement issued to PAN, NIAC said the common denominator of the reported weekend detentions at ports of entry is Iranian heritage.
“Which should raise immediate concerns of discriminatory and illegal actions targeting on the basis of national origin,” the statement reads.
Washington State Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib issued a statement saying he’s “deeply concerned” about the reports his office has received regarding U.S. citizens of Iranian descent being held at the Peace Arch border.
“My office is working as quickly as possible to gather information and to direct those being impacted to resources. In the absence of any official statement on this as of yet, it is critical that Customs and Border Protection immediately clarify this drastic change in policy,” Habib’s statement read.
We have talked to Iranian Americans detained for 12 hours at borders & airports this weekend, asked about views on political situation with Iran, etc. Care to explain, provide any clarity for Iranian Americans coming home from holiday travel? Or does it have to happen in court? https://t.co/Jv0JqVc4OU— Jamal Abdi (@jabdi) January 5, 2020
Washington Governor Jay Inslee tweeted that Homeland Security has informed his office that they did not issue an order to detain or refuse entry to Iranian Americans.
“Washingtonians, who happen to be Iranian-American, were detained at the Canadian-U.S. border because of their ethnicity or country of origin. @CBP’s denial of these reports are simply not credible. these were detentions, and that is unacceptable,” Inslee tweeted.
Washingtonians, who happen to be Iranian-American, were detained at the Canadian-U.S. border because of their ethnicity or country of origin.— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 6, 2020
@CBP’s denial of these reports are simply not credible.
These were detentions, and that is unacceptable. https://t.co/TE3Jx1rDbW pic.twitter.com/c7TUDNsOaE