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Outrage continues over unlawful detention of U.S. citizens

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As outrage over the detention of Iranian-American U.S. citizens at the border continues to mount, policymakers such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Senator Elizabeth Warren and leading observers and experts are speaking out against the Trump Administration’s unlawful questioning, screening and detention of Iranian-American U.S. citizens.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), alongside five colleagues, wrote a letter to the Trump administration demanding more information on the recent reports of detention at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Washington state. The letter blasts Custom and Border Protection’s (CBP) inability and unwillingness to explain detentions:

In response to criticism, CBP stated that “CBP field leadership participated in a teleconference with Acting Commissioner Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Perez, where the field was asked to remain vigilant and increase their situational awareness given the evolving threat environment.” CBP also released statements attributing long waits to high traffic during late hours, when the port has lower staffing levels. These statements, however, 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. The statements also do not explain why individuals appear to have been detained throughout the day on January 4, beginning as early as 8:00 am.

The Members of Congress conclude by demanding any documents, including transcripts or written descriptions, regarding “[a]ny directives, orders, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications—issued on or after January 2, 2020—from any Department of Homeland Security or CBP official to CBP Agents or Officers regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage or any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani.”

Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also authored a letter addressed to Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan, demanding clarifying information regarding the border patrol agency’s heightened examinations of Iranian-Americans: 

The new threat warning from DHS is serious, and CBP should be taking lawful and appropriate action to protect national security. But the conflicting information circulating about CBP personnel’s treatment of Iranian Americans and people who are or are perceived to be of Iranian heritage raises questions about what agency policies are in effect, and how CBP is “safeguard[ing] our national security … while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone.”

Senator Warren demands transparency into CBP’s “enhanced posture at its ports of entry” since January 2, 2020, and demands the agency provide any documents detailing policies — new or longstanding — that could lead to Iranians being subjected to additional scrutiny at the border. 

Additionally, immigration attorney David Leopold has been a leading voice condemning the detentions and false reassurances from CBP. Yesterday, Leopold appeared on the NPR show 1-A to discuss the illegality of CBP’s actions. Leopold also authored a Medium post exploring the subject entitled, “Next, they came for the Iranians,” in which he further calls out the agency, saying:

U.S. law prohibits CBP from further detaining a U.S. citizen solely to interrogate them about their political views, religion, or allegiances — not to mention their national origin or race. To be sure, U.S. citizens may be detained or arrested at the U.S. port of entry if U.S. authorities have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. But that’s a criminal issue which has nothing to do with whether or not a law abiding U.S. citizen is eligible to enter the U.S.

So CBP’s public assurance that Iranian-Americans were not being detained and refused entry into the U.S. is meaningless since agents don’t have the authority to refuse them entry into the U.S. in the first place.