The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA) alleged on Sunday that Customs and Border Protection officials have been detaining Iranians and Iranian-Americans amid President Donald Trump’s push for war against Iran.
CAIR-WA said in a press release that it was assisting more than 60 people of Iranian descent, including American citizens, who had been detained and questioned “at length” near the U.S.-Canada border in Blaine, Washington.
According to the advocacy group, CBP officials confiscated the detainees’ passports and asked them about their political beliefs. A 24-year-old U.S. citizen named Crystal, whose last name was withheld by CAIR-WA, said that she and her family were held for more than 10 hours.
“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,'” she said.
An unnamed source at CBP told CAIR-WA that the agency had been ordered nationwide by the Department of Homeland Security to detain those of Iranian descent who were suspected of being “adversarial.”
“These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens,” said CAIR-WA executive director Masih Fouladi. “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.”
CBP spokesperson Michael Friel denied the allegations.
“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,” Friel told TPM in an emailed statement. “Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”
Hoda Katebi, an Iranian-American activist who had issued the press release with CAIR-WA, tweeted that CBP was “literally lying [through] their teeth.”
“CBP on some shit,” she wrote. “I personally spoke to Iranian Americans detained at the Peace Arch border for 11hrs in a room with 40+ other Iranian families being interrogated specifically about their Iranian heritage.”
A CBP spokesperson said the agency is operating with “an enhanced posture” at the ports of entry “based on the current threat environment.” The spokesperson did not elaborate on the specifics of the “threat environment.”
“Processing times are the result of the current circumstances, including staffing levels, volume of traffic, and threat posture,” the spokesperson said. “At the Blaine [point of entry], 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.”
The allegations emerged amid the fallout from President Donald Trump order to assassinate the Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani last week, which the Trump administration claimed to be a protective measure against unexplained “imminent” danger from Iran.
Trump has since ramped up his violent rhetoric toward the Middle Eastern country, saying the U.S. will “fully strike back” at Iran “perhaps in a more disproportionate manner” if it attacks an American entity.