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Jayapal: Iranian-American border detentions unacceptable

Despite denials from Customs and Border Protection, Washington Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says Iranian-Americans have been held at the Peace Arch Border crossing in Blaine.

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“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,” CBP said in a statement to KIRO 7 TV. “Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

Both CAIR and Gov. Jay Inslee countered that claim.

“Customs and Border Protection denials of these reports are simply not credible,” Inslee said. “There are multiple firsthand accounts of CBP agents seizing people’s passports while they waited for up to 12 hours for re-entry into the United States. By all accounts, this is detention, regardless of whether the waiting area has bars on the windows.”

“A source at CBP reported 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,” CAIR said in a news release. Jayapal also countered the CBP claims Monday saying at a news conference that she had confirmation of multiple people being held for hours at the crossing.

The Seattle Congressmember also said she believed the detentions were the result of some sort of Trump administration directive following an air strike ordered by the president last week that killed a top Iranian general.

“I understand that CBP has said that no such thing has occurred but it is difficult to believe that when you listen to the multiple accounts of what happened,” Jayapal said.

One such account came from Negah Hekmati, a Kirkland mother and business owner who says she, her husband, a Microsoft software engineer, and their two young children – all U.S. citizens – were held at the crossing for over the weekend along with friends as they returned from skiing in Canada.

“As soon as they realized we were born in Iran they lead us to the office, they held us there for five hours, [and] they asked us many questions, many personal questions like our Facebook accounts, my parents full name and birthdate, my uncles who are in the U.S., they asked about my cousins,” recalled Hekmati.

But answers to their questions did not come as easily.

“Without any answers, they didn’t have any answers for questions because they didn’t know why they [were] doing this,” Hekmati explained, adding that her 8 and 5 year old children were afraid to fall asleep out of fear their parents would be taken to jail.

Jayapal said she had heard confirmed multiple, similar accounts.

“This appears to be another attempt to target and isolate a community that very much is part of our social fabric,” Jayapal said, likening it to the treatment of Muslim Americans right after 9-11 and Japanese Americans during World War II.

“This idea that somehow you’re a U.S. citizen except when something happens in the country of origin, that is not what it means to be a U.S. citizen,” Jayapal said.

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