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Over the weekend, more than 60 people of Iranian descent were detained by Customs and Border Protection at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington. The people detained were American citizens and green card holders, and included some very dangerous children and families.

Most of the people who were stopped were let into the country after being detained and questioned, though civil rights organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that others were denied entry entirely.

On Monday, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal held a press conference where six of the people who were detained over the weekend detailed their experiences.

"We were anxious": Iranian-American woman says family was held at U.S.-Canada border for 5 hours www.youtube.com


Negah Hekmati, an interior designer, and her husband, a software engineer for Microsoft, were with their five- and eight-year-old children when they were detained at the Blaine border crossing. The family, all of whom are American citizens, was held overnight and questioned before being released. According to Hekmati, the children were terrified and both parents were questioned about their families and their pasts in Iran, despite their US citizenship.

During the five overnight hours they were held at the Peace Arch Border Crossing on their way back home to the Seattle area, Ms. Hekmati said, her 5-year-old would not sleep, worried about the prospect of jail. The young girl asked Ms. Hekmati to stop speaking Persian, hoping that might help avoid further scrutiny.

"My kids shouldn't experience such things," Ms. Hekmati said. "They are U.S. citizens. This is not O.K."

Masih Fouladi, the executive director of CAIR Washington, said some people were held and questioned for up to 10 hours.

When one family asked agents why they were being questioned, an officer told them, "This is a bad time to be an Iranian," according to Mr. Fouladi, whose group has spoken to the travelers.

"These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens."

One woman, who has lived in the US for decades, told the New York Times that she was asked "whether she was part of any cult or Shiite Muslim organization." And legal advocates at Rep. Jayapal's press conference described people being questioned about their thoughts on what's currently happening between the US and Iran.

As discussed by ACLU National Security Project director Hina Shamsi,

United States citizens and legal permanent residents do not have to answer questions about their political views or religious views and practices, and cannot be denied entry into the United States for declining to answer these questions.

Ms. Shamsi said some of the questioning appeared to violate First Amendment rights. Under the law, she said, border agents who question citizens and legal permanent residents are permitted to verify only identity, legal status and whether a person is carrying contraband.

But she said the A.C.L.U. had for years tracked cases of invasive and sometimes unlawful questioning by border officers that went beyond those limits, into political and religious views and practices. She said she had seen such questions directed at Americans of Somali, Afghani and Pakistani backgrounds following military action in those countries.

Mohammad Halbawy, a US citizen born and raised in Seattle who is half-Lebanese, told BuzzFeed he was interrogated and had his phone searched by agents before being able to go home.

"When I walk in, the first thing the [CBP agent] said was, 'Yeah you picked the wrong time to travel. Haven't you seen the news?'" Halbawy said. "Literally everybody was Persian or had a connection to Persia. We were the lone Arab people."

CBP agents took his phone and asked for its passcode. Halbawy provided the passcode after he was told by CBP officers they would get into it eventually without it, only he'd have to wait even longer while they got access. CBP took their phones for two hours before returning them, Halbawy said.

Sepehr Ebrahimzadeh, a legal permanent resident who had been on holiday with his girlfriend in Canada, described being stopped when he was returning home on Saturday.

With his green card and a NEXUS pass that allows expedited processing, Mr. Ebrahimzadeh has not had any troubles at the border in recent years. When a border officer referred the couple for additional scrutiny, he suspected that it was because their vehicle was messy with winter sports gear.

He thought differently once he was inside the facility and noticed people of other backgrounds getting processed quickly, while the people of Iranian descent were left waiting for hours. [...]

Mr. Ebrahimzadeh said agents did not question his girlfriend, Kathryn Teagarden, who does not have Iranian background.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, CBP has claimed that it has not detained or refused entry to people based on their country of origin.

I know I sure believe the agency that lied about separating families at the border over first-hand accounts of travelers who were detained.

Not only is all of this horrifying; a lot of it is also likely illegal. CBP can't single people out for detention and interrogation (referred to by the agency as "secondary screening") based solely on their national origin. However, national origin can be taken into consideration as one factor to consider, combined with things like "suspicious behavior" and travel history. American families with small children sure are suspicious, huh?

Former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske told the New York Times that "agents would put an added emphasis on a traveler's country of origin when that nation was singled out as a national security threat," as the Department of Homeland Security did with Iran over the weekend.

As noted by Slate:

[CBP] grants its employees extraordinary discretion to enforce broad directives, a recipe for discrimination and illegality. Under Trump, especially, CBP agents frequently behave as if they are accountable to no one, because they usually are.

American citizens are American citizens, whether they are immigrants or were born here. Lawful permanent residents are green card holders who have already been granted permission to live in the United States permanently. It is beyond fucked that they are being treated like criminals for coming to a country that they thought would bring them freedom.

Meanwhile, today CBP announced its intent to begin unconstitutionally collecting DNA samples from people it detains at the Canadian border near Detroit, including US citizens and green card holders. We definitely believe the choice of Detroit for this "pilot program" has absolutely nothing to do with the large Muslim population in places like Dearborn, Michigan.

Welcome to the police state, we hope you enjoy your stay.

[ NYT / Slate / BuzzFeed / YouTube ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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