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Border crossing, detaining, Iranians, Iranian-Americans
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New emails reveal CBP directive that led to detaining of Iranian-Americans at WA border

The Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, WA. (Daveynin, Flickr Creative Commons)

Newly-released emails detail correspondence among Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials that eventually led to the detention of over 250 people at the U.S./Canada border crossing in Blaine, Wash., in January 2020.

Gov. Inslee: ‘CBP lied’ about detention of Iranian-Americans at border

The emails were published by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) as part of ongoing litigation in the Western District of Washington. One particular correspondence confirms that CBP’s Seattle Field Office directed the port of entry in Blaine to “refer all encounters with individuals from areas of national concern” to secondary screening “for additional inspection and vetting.”

A leaked memo released earlier in 2020 revealed that this directive encompassed any individuals born between 1961 and 2001, from Palestine, Lebanon, and Iran, as well as “any other nationality that has traveled to Iran or Lebanon.”

The memo went on to recommend additional vetting to determine “extremist ideology,” and “deceptive behaviors,” as well as connections to the Shia sect of Islam, with “scrutiny on military questions.”

CBP had claimed in January that reports of a directive to detain individuals with ties to Iran were “false,” before later backtracking on that claim in February and amending its position to state that it hadn’t issued a directive to deny entries.

“Today’s publication also shows an attempt by high-level CBP officials to mislead the public,” the NWIRP said in a Tuesday news release.

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Washington lawmakers met with CBP officials in early February, where they reported being told by the agency that it had “made mistakes,” while acknowledging that it was “unlawful to single people out based on their heritage alone.”

At the time this occurred, it was estimated that roughly 200 people — 60 of whom were identified as U.S. citizens — were referred to secondary screening based on that criteria. Emails released Tuesday, though, indicate that number was actually closer to 80 U.S. citizens, an additional 55 lawful permanent U.S. residents, and 250 total people.

Of those who were detained, 32% were processed in over five hours, taking as long as nine hours in at least one instance.

The NWIRP is currently waiting on CBP to release more documents and correspondence following a recent court order. That would include the original leaked memo issuing the official directive, as well as several unredacted emails.

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