An email from a U.S. Customs Border Protection whistleblower says agents were under a directive to detain and question people of Iranian ethnicity at the Peace Arch crossing earlier this month.
On Jan. 4, at least 60 Americans of Iranian background were reportedly detained at Peace Arch border for up to 16 hours while heading back to the U.S. from a concert in Vancouver. The detention came shortly after the Iranian government pledged retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
In the email obtained by PAN, the whistleblower – who said he or she personally interrogated a number of U.S. citizens with Iranian background at the border that weekend – said the “sole reason” that travellers were detained and questioned was due to their national origin.
In a statement to PAN issued Jan. 6, CBP said that it “does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
The statement also said reports that CBP or the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive related to detaining and questioning Iranian-Americans was false.
As soon as the detentions made national news, the operation was suspended, the whistleblower wrote.
“It’s a total cover up,” immigration lawyer Len Saunders told PAN Sunday.
Saunders was the first to receive the whistleblower email. He said he confirmed the identity of the writer as a CBP employee before forwarding it to PAN. The whistleblower’s name was not given to PAN.
Saunders visited the Peace Arch border in the midst of the mass-detainment on unrelated business on Jan. 4. He said he saw 75 “Persian-looking people” patiently waiting.
“I asked one of the officers, I’m like, ‘what’s going on here?… And he goes, ‘every single Iranian born applicant is being sent inside for (extra) vetting.”
Contacted Monday, CBP told PAN in an email that they “don’t have anything to add” to their previous statement.
“Now you have a whistleblower who basically gives a detailed account of what happened and for them to still deny it, I’m shocked,” Saunders said. “I’m shocked at the unethical behaviour of the U.S. government, and what’s preventing (it) from happening again?”
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