American-Iranians Say They Were Detained At U.S.-Canada Border. Federal Officials Deny It

The Peace Arch memorial monument in Blaine, Washington connects the U.S. and Canada as a port of entry. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
The Peace Arch memorial monument in Blaine, Washington connects the U.S. and Canada as a port of entry. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

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BY ESMY JIMENEZ & PATRICIA MURPHY / KUOW

Sixty Iranian-Americans say they were detained at the American border with Canada this weekend, according to CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Two other attorneys at the border, unrelated to CAIR, made similar observations.

Customs and Border Protection denies those reports.

CAIR said some individuals were detained and questioned for up to 11 hours.

These claims come after rapidly escalating tensions with Iran, following the airstrike killing of Qasem Soleimani, a top level Iranian general, which was authorized by President Donald Trump.

Masih Fouladi, the executive director of CAIR in Washington state, said he started getting phone calls about people being detained late Saturday night.

“At its highest points there were 60 individuals who were being detained,” Fouladi said.

CAIR said people were returning from an Iranian pop concert in Vancouver.

Customs and Border Protection denied that they stopped people because of their country of origin. They said wait times did get up to four hours at the Peace Arch in Blaine, but said that was because of reduced staff during the holidays.

Fouladi called that “a flat-out lie.”

In a statement The Department of Homeland Security did say it’s operating with “enhanced posture at its ports of entry to safeguard national security.”

Saturday the department also published a bulletin saying it would “enhance security measures as necessary.”

Mona Zabihan, a U.S. citizen from Iran, told Buzzfeed News that she waited for questioning for about an hour. She was traveling with other Iranian-Americans, returning from the concert.

“They wanted to know the names of all my immediate family members, their birthdates, their location, and their occupation,” Zabihian told Buzzfeed. “They asked when was the last time I visited Iran.”

By Sunday evening, immigration attorneys at the Canadian border did not believe there were more detained Iranian Americans waiting to enter the U.S.

Jorge Baron, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project was at the Canadian border Sunday afternoon. He said things had largely quieted down but was talking to families who spent six hours in secondary inspections.

Baron says the whole thing is ‘highly unusual’ and was working with other attorneys to figure out if it was a the beginnings of a policy to come or a one-time event.

It was unclear whether Iranians were delayed further south at Sea-Tac airport.

In a tweet, the Port of Seattle, which oversees the airport, responded that they “were in touch with federal Congressional and immigrant rights organizations.”

The Port added they were not aware of any unusual activity for arriving international passengers.

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