The U.S. Customs and Border Protection is rejecting claims suggesting that the agency was detaining people of Iranian descent, along with Iranian-Americans “because of their country of origin”.
The CBP denied the allegations in a Twitter post on Sunday, asserting that “social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false,” Newsweek reports.
The agency also maintained that neither the Department of Homeland Security nor CBP had issued any “directive” ordering border agents and officers to detain people of Iranian descent.
Despite the agency’s assurances, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA) said it had identified more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans “of all ages” who said they had been “detained at length and questioned” by CBP officials.
All of those who were detained, CAIR-WA said, had been stopped at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Washington.
The organization said that those stopped reported having their passports taken away before being questioned about their political views and allegiances. Some, it said, were also “reportedly refused entry to the United States due to a lack of capacity” for CBP to detain them.
One 24-year-old U.S. citizen of Iranian descent told CAIR-WA of how they were detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours with their family at the border crossing before being released.
Identified only as Crystal, the 24-year-old, who is a medical student, said that “the vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens.”
“We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for traveling and was told ‘I’m sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys’,” Crystal said.
“These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens,” said Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA. “We are working to verify reports of a broad nationwide directive to detain Iranian-Americans at ports of entry so that we can provide community members with accurate travel guidance. We will continue to update the community and other civil rights organizations as we obtain more information.”
In a series of tweets, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), also warned that it had heard “credible reports” of people of Iranian descent being stopped at U.S. border points.
“URGENT: we are hearing credible reports of detentions at U.S. borders, both of Iranian Americans and permanent residents,” the NIAC, which identifies itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing interests of the Iranian-American community, warned in a tweet on Sunday.
The organization said it was still “in the info-gathering stage,” but said that reports had suggested that “many individuals of Iranian heritage have been detained for questioning at ports of entry—both at airports and border crossings.”
However, the organization said most reports had originated from the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Washington.
Washington officials said they were looking into the matter, with Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib issuing a statement expressing concern over reports of people of Iranian descent being held “sometimes for 10 hours or longer” at the Canada-Washington border.