American border officials detained dozens of people with ties to Iran at the US-Canada border amid escalating tensions, civil-rights group says

The border crossing between Blaine, Washington, and White Rock, British Columbia, on November 8, 2001.

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The border crossing between Blaine, Washington, and White Rock, British Columbia, on November 8, 2001.
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Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
  • Dozens of people with ties to Iran were held for hours by US Customs and Border Protection officers at a port of entry on the southern border of Canada over the weekend, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
  • Reports of 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans being held with no explanation sparked concerns of domestic ripple effects stemming from an escalation in US-Iran tensions.
  • CAIR said it was assisting those who were detained for hours overnight Saturday and had heard of a “broad directive” to immigration agents to scrutinize those with ties to Iran.
  • CBP authorities have denied detaining people on account of ties to Iran, blaming wait times at the port, but also said in reported statements that agents were “operating with an enhanced posture” based on the current “threat environment.”
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US Customs and Border Protection officers detained dozens of people with ties to Iran at a port of entry on the southern border of Canada, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in what appeared to be one of the first domestic effects from an escalation in US-Iran tensions.

CAIR, a civil-rights group, reported in a press release on Sunday that the group was assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans who were detained and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington.

The Washington chapter of the group said it was aware of Iranian nationals and American citizens who reported being held and questioned with no explanation for several hours on Saturday.

The concerning details the group released came days after a US airstrike killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military official, which shocked the region and triggered furious responses from Iraq and Iran.

Masih Fouladi, the chapter’s executive director, said in a statement on Sunday that the group had heard of a “broad nationwide directive” to detain Iranian Americans at the border and was investigating.

The accounts of people held at the border describe what’s known as a secondary inspection, which is conducted at the discretion of agents who decide to pull aside certain entrants to a separate interview location.

The following day, the group issued a “Know Your Rights” advisory for anyone who could be affected by increased scrutiny from agents for their ties to Iran.

CBP is denying the detentions happened

In an email statement to Business Insider on Sunday, Michael Friel, a CBP spokesperson, flatly denied any such actions by authorities with the agency or the Department of Homeland Security.

“Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the US because of their country of origin are false,” Friel said. “Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

Hamed Aleaziz, an immigration reporter for BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter that the agency also said it was “operating with an enhanced posture at its ports of entry” because of the “current threat environment.”

“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 America people while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone,” the agency told Aleaziz, according to the tweet.

One detained student said most people being held were American citizens

A 24-year-old American citizen and medical student told CAIR that CBP agents detained and interrogated her for more than 10 hours with her family at the port before she was released on Sunday.

“The vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens,” the student, identified as Crystal said, according to the release. “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.'”

Sam Sadr, a Vancouver, British Columbia, resident who was born in Tehran, Iran, told Politico that he was held for nine hours with his family when a CBP agent noticed Iran was mentioned on his passport. He said he was interrogated on his educational background, if he had any ties to the military, and if he owned a firearm.

Though CBP denied issuing a directive to detain those with ties to Iran, the incidents come after the Department of Homeland Security updated its National Terrorism Advisory System to include a summary of newfound threats from Iran, including cyberattacks and threats of terrorism from “homegrown violent extremists.”