Customs and Border Protection denied reports of Iranian Americans being detained and refused entry to the United States over the weekend after a series of social media posts claimed that Iranian Americans had been held for extended periods of time at a port of entry in Blaine, Washington, at the Canadian border.
Iranians and Iranian-Americans being detained for questioning upon entering the U.S. kicked off a furor on Sunday from Washington state to Washington, D.C., marking a new domestic blowback to the Trump administration’s targeted killing of a key Iranian leader.
The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Muslim civil liberties group, said on Sunday that more than 60 people of Iranian descent, including American citizens, were held for hourslong periods of questioning over the weekend at the Peace Arch checkpoint in Blaine, Wash., along the border with Canada. CAIR noted that many Iranian-Americans would continue to approach the port of entry over the weekend as some return to the U.S. after attending an Iranian pop concert Saturday in Vancouver.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations posted a statement saying that the Washington state chapter was assisting “more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans,” who they claimed were “detained at length and questioned” at a crossing in Washington.
CAIR said in its statement that a source at U.S. Customs and Border Protection had reported that the agency received a national directive from the Department of Homeland Security to “‘report’ and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial,’ regardless of citizenship status.”
CBP said that the Blaine port of entry experienced increased wait times “to an average of two hours on Saturday evening, although some travelers experienced wait times of up to four hours due to increased volume and reduced staff during the holiday season.”
The agency said that “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.”
CBP declined to comment on reports that some people were questioned at the point of entry about their political views.
Len Saunders, an immigration attorney in Blaine, said his contacts through CBP indicated that headquarters in Washington had ordered new vetting procedures, which appear to be directed toward people born in Iran, that require port directors to sign off on admitting anyone held for questioning.
A CBP spokesperson denied that DHS or the agency had issued any such directive.
The agency says it often adjusts operations and staffing to balance security needs with lawful travel and trade. Processing times at the Blaine port of entry reached an average of two hours Saturday evening, though CBP said some travelers waited up to four hours to cross.
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