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Reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on Saturday and questioned about their "political views and allegiances" were met with alarm by lawmakers and rights groups, particularly given the soaring military tensions between Iran and the U.S. brought on by the Trump administration.
"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."
—Masih Fouladi, CAIR
On Sunday, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it is "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."
Those detained, according to CAIR, were returning from an Iranian pop concert that took place Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.
CAIR, citing an anonymous source from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), alleged 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."
An individual CAIR identified as Crystal, a 24-year-old American citizen and medical student, said she was detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours at the Washington-Canada border before her release Sunday morning.
"The vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens," Crystal said. "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.'"
Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA, said in a statement that the reports of detentions are "extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens."
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"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," said Fouladi. "We will continue to update the community and other civil rights organizations as we obtain more information."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, tweeted that she is "deeply disturbed" by the reports, which come amid soaring military tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the Trump administration's assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
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.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 5, 2020
The National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) said it is also "hearing credible reports of detentions at U.S. borders, both of Iranian-Americans and permanent residents."
"We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers and allies," the group said.
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 email@example.com
— NIAC (@NIACouncil) January 5, 2020
"First they ban us. Then they starve our families via sanctions. Then they threaten our cultural heritage sites with bombs," tweeted NIAC organizing director Donna Farvard. "Now they're detaining us at the border."