The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has reportedly opened an investigation into reports of up to 60 Iranian-Americans being held for hours at the Peace Arch border this past weekend.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wrote on Twitter Wednesday that the office has opened a civil rights inquiry, and she encouraged people who were impacted by the border incident to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this week, the National Iranian American Council said some individuals – who were reportedly headed back to the U.S. after attending a Persian pop concert in Vancouver – were held in detention for up to 16 hours at the Peace Arch crossing and subjected to questioning as a result of their national heritage.
The reported border delays followed a pledge of retaliation from Iran after the U.S. killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike Friday in Baghdad.
US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Michael Friel told PAN via email Monday social media posts indicating that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing them entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false.
Reports that the Department of Homeland Security/CBP has issued a related directive are also false, he said.
The statement provided by CBP also included background information, stating that “CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
“Based on the current threat environment, CBP is operating with an enhanced posture at its ports of entry to safeguard our national security and protect the American people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone,” the statement reads.
Jayapal, who also serves as vice-chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a news release Jan. 7 announcing her pressure on the Trump administration regarding the reported incident.
The letter, which was signed by a number of Jayapal’s colleagues, questioned the CBP’s public explanation that attributed long waits to high traffic during late hours and lower staffing levels.
The letter noted that the CBP’s public statements “do not explain why impacted persons were overwhelmingly of Iranian heritage, nor why pre-cleared U.S. citizen travelers would have been placed in secondary inspection and delayed for five hours,” or “why individuals appear to have been detained throughout the day on January 4, beginning as early as 8 a.m.”