Iranian U.S. Citizens Detained Crossing Border in Washington State: Reports

Getty The Peace Arch border crossing is one of the busiest crossings in North America.

Reports have surfaced that many Iranian-Americans were detained when they tried to cross back into the U.S. at a Washington state border. Some were returning to their homes after attending a concert in Canada. The U.S. citizens were detained for hours on Saturday, January 4, according to reports by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and posts on social media from friends of those detained.

Customs and Border Patrol said in a statement to BuzzFeed News reporter Hamed Aleaziz, “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. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.” CBP added that the port of entry between Canada and Washington had, “wait times increased 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.”

CBP continued, “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 America people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone.”


Iranian Americans Were Detained When Crossing Back Into the U.S. After a Concert, Reports Said

Rep. Pramila Jayapal posted on Twitter on Sunday, January 5: “Deeply disturbed by reports that Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, are being detained at the Canadian border with WA State. My office has been working on this all morning. Please contact us with information on directly affected people at WA07PJ_casework@mail.house.gov.”

Washington’s Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib shared on Twitter: “Our office is receiving reports of Iranian Americans being held up at the Canada-WA border. We are working to help those being affected & gathering info. If you have firsthand information about this, or if you need assistance, please contact our office at Ltgov@ltgov.wa.gov.”

Habib later released an official statement:

Washington state was a litigant against President Donald Trump’s earlier travel bans. In fact, Washington was the first state to file a lawsuit against Trump’s original travel ban, according to the Washington State Attorney General.

Meanwhile, CAIR-WA issued a press release detailing what happened at the border. The detention occurred at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine Washington, they noted. You can see a map of the approximate location of the border crossing below.

CAIR-WA is assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were were detained and questioned. Others were refused entry “due to a lack of capacity for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to detain them.” Many were returning home to the U.S. after attending an Iranian pop concert Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.

Some of those who were detained said their passports were taken and they were questioned about their political views and allegiances, CAIR-WA reported.

Crystal, an American medical student, told CAIR-WA that she was interrogated for more than 10 hours. She said:

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.'”

Hoda Katebi issued the press release alongside CAIR-WA and talked about what happened on Twitter.

Katebi wrote: “We have been in touch with the ACLU as well as many other national Iranian and civil rights legal and advocacy groups who have started working on this issue, and were making calls to CBP at the border last night… This is a HUGE DEAL. Iranians who have been born and raised in the USA are literally being ILLEGALLY DETAINED for 11+ hours for NO REASON & interrogated with intrusive and inappropriate questions about political opinions, what courses they or their parents studied in college, etc.”

They are asking any Iranians who were stopped and detained to contact the ACLU or CAIR.

CAIR-WA wrote in their press release: “A source at CBP reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a national order to CBP to ‘report’ and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial,’ regardless of citizenship status. CBP at the Peace Arch Border Crossing did not confirm or deny this report. ”

CBP later denied the report in a statement shared at the beginning of this article, saying that wait times were simply longer on Saturday night.  CBP said, in part, “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 America people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone.”

The National Iranian American Council wrote on Twitter: “URGENT: we are hearing credible reports of detentions at US borders, both of Iranian Americans and permanent residents. We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers & allies. If you have information please share it directly with us at info@niacouncil.org.” 

Reports about the detentions first surfaced on social media. This Facebook post by Mohammad Yazdani has been shared on social media. He wrote: “Hello. Please share this with other Iranians you may know. One of my friends along with 150 other Iranians was stopped and detained at the Vancouver Canada border trying to get back to the US since this morning. The only thing they are telling them is they are Iranian and they are not allowed back to the US. My friend has green card and a lot other have American passport. Please let others know by leaving the country right now you may not get back in.” This was originally shared in a Facebook group.

CAIR-WA later issued a press releasing about the detentions after speaking with people who had been held.

Meanwhile, John Ghazvinian, interim director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about his own experience at JFK on January 5. “Well, just landed at JFK and — no surprise — got taken to the special side room and got asked (among other things) how I feel about the situation with Iran. I wanted to be like: my book comes out in September, preorder now on amazon.”

Bird Law Firm in Florida, which focuses on employment and family immigration, wrote on Facebook on January 5: “Based on this recent information, we can surmise that those with Iranian heritage, traveling to and from Iran, may have difficulty entering the US; those with Iranian heritage may be detained indefinitely without reasonable suspicion; and, those affected, or possibly affected, should have an attorney on call in their state/city of arrival.”

This is a developing story.