VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is stepping in and says it will look into reports of people of Iranian descent being stopped and questioned for hours at the Peace Arch border crossing last weekend.
The Department’s civil rights office is opening an investigation after it was reported dozens of people of Iranian descent were subject to prolonged stops and questioning by U.S. border guards in Blaine. Some have said they were held for up to 12 hours, and their passports were held.
Immigration lawyer Len Saunders, who is based in Washington state, says he has has never seen the federal U.S. government investigate a single border crossing for a situation like this.
“For Iranian-Canadians, I think this is good news,” he tells NEWS 1130. “It shows that at least the federal government is trying to follow the law and not target one specific community.”
Washington state Rep. @RepJayapal's office confirms that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties will be investigating reports that some people of Iranian heritage were detained at the Peace Arch crossing over the weekend. @NEWS1130
— Peter Wagner (@peterjontheair) January 9, 2020
He hopes whoever is responsible for the singling out of people of Iranian decent is held to account, and applauds the government’s move. Saunders calls the move “significant,” and notes there are some key questions border guards will need to answer.
“The first key question is why were they targeting Iranians, or at least Canadians born in Iran? Why did they single out that specific group of individuals?” he says.
The other major answer he’d like to hear is why the detentions and questioning only appeared to have taken place at the Peace Arch border crossing.
“I didn’t hear it happening at any other port of entry across this country,” Saunders adds. “I’ve never heard of the federal government coming in on one specific issue at one point of entry. I think they’re doing the right thing, the federal government, by trying to get to the bottom of what happened, who the instructions came from, why.”
It’s reported more than 60 people were caught up in the mass questioning and delays. It came days after Iran’s top general was killed in a U.S. airstrike ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump.
US Customs and Border Protection took to social media to deny claims the detentions were based on nationality, and said they were not ordered by the U.S. government.
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.
— CBP (@CBP) January 5, 2020
A Seattle congresswoman confirmed the investigation, saying she received assurances the matter is being reviewed.
She also commended those who came forward to speak out about what happened.
“An important step forward thanks to the courage of those who spoke up to tell their story and our community’s collective ability to quickly draw attention to this,” Jaypal says in a tweet. “Let’s get answers and make sure it never happens again.”
-with files from Martin MacMahon