Iranian-Americans harassed by US border officials

31st Jan 2020

Harun Nasrullah

Iranian-Americans have reported being “harassed” by US border officials amid reports Homeland Security has issued an order to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to detain Iranians following the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Several travellers of Iranian heritage have faced inappropriate questions about their views since the assassination of Soleimani on January 3. One group said they were stopped for hours at the Canadian-US border.

Around 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans said they were stopped for up to seven and a half hours on January 5 while trying to cross into the US at the Peace Arch Border Crossing near Blaine, Washington.

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a source at CBP reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a national order to “report” and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or “adversarial,” regardless of citizenship status.

“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.”

At a news conference held on January 6 by US Rep Pramila Jayapal presented an Iranian-born woman who claimed she, her husband and their two young children — all American citizens — were held and questioned at the Canadian border for five hours before they were allowed to re-enter the US.

CBP officers held the family’s passports, and car keys during that time, which lasted from about midnight to 5 a.m., said Negah Hekmati, an interior designer who lives with her family in Kirkland. Her husband is a software engineer for Microsoft.

“My kids were so anxious,” Hekmati said of her son, 8, and daughter, 5.  They didn’t want to sleep because they were worried their parents might be taken to jail. The account mirrored many others from people stopped at the border, including five additional people interviewed by The Seattle Times. Three were of Iranian heritage, one of Palestinian and one of Lebanese. All were either US citizens or legal permanent residents.

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee urged anyone with information to call her office about, “the detention of Iranian nationals, including US citizens and green card holders by border guards.”

Sepehr Ebrahimzadeh, a Seattle-based Google engineer, said he had waited about six hours to cross the border at Blaine and was repeatedly questioned during that time.
A Canadian citizen with a US green card, he said he was trying to enter the US by land from British Columbia, Canada.

Ebrahimzadeh said Border Patrol guards had questioned him about his birthplace, his high school years in Iran, his own military service as well as his father’s, and about other relatives and his employment history.

He said he saw other Iranians next to him who had to wait hours and were questioned about their social media accounts. CAIR said that some travellers were only allowed to proceed after 10 hours of questioning, while others were denied entry altogether.

Some, the advocacy group said, had their passports withheld while they were asked about their political views and allegiances. University of Pennsylvania Professor John Qazvinian said he was taken to a room and questioned “about the situation in Iran” upon landing at JFK’s New York City airport on January 5.

CBP spokesman Mike Friel said, “Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the US because of their country of origin are false.”
However, US lawmakers expressed concern on Twitter about the reports.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading contender in the Democratic presidential race, called the reports ‘deeply disturbing. Iranian Americans have the same rights as all other US citizens and should be treated with dignity and respect at our border – not bigoted, xenophobic scrutiny,’ Warren said on Twitter.

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