Jan 7, 2020 - World

Inslee calls reports of U.S.-Iranian citizens being held at border alarming

An international air traveler is cleared by a US Customs and Border Protection Offic  inside the US Customs and Immigration area at Dulles International Airport (IAD
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday called reports that dozens of Canadian and American citizens faced hours of questioning at the U.S.-Canada border because of their Iranian heritage over the weekend "deeply alarming." Customs and Border Protection denies the allegations.

Driving the news: Civil rights group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it's been "assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages who were detained at length and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash."

The allegations: "Those detained reported that their passports were confiscated and they were questioned about their political views and allegiances," CAIR said in a statement Sunday.

  • Sam Sadr, an Iranian-Canadian who traveled to the U.S. using his Canadian passport, told CTV Monday he saw "dozens of other Iranians held, including children" while he was stopped by agents at a U.S. border crossing in British Colombia for eight hours.
  • At a CAIR Washington news conference Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said there was a clear link to the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last Friday and President Trump's subsequent action on Iran and the border delays.
"Clearly, many people were being processed through and the only people that seemed to be held aside and detained in some form or fashion were people of Iranian heritage."

What they're saying: Customs and Border Protection says it does not discriminate against anyone's religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. It said in a statement Sunday, "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."

  • Wait times at Blaine increased to an average of two hours on Saturday evening, though this was higher for some travelers, up to four hours, because of increased volume and reduced staff during the holiday season, according to CBP.
  • A CBP spokesman told Axios Monday there's a difference between a secondary inspection and detention. "It is possible that Canadian Iranians underwent secondary inspections," he said.

The big picture: CBP says it has stepped up procedures at its ports of entry for security based on the current threat environment.

Go deeper: "Axios on HBO" sits down with top CBP official

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