Statement of Coalition of Iranian-American Organizations on Border Detentions

Reports of Mass Detentions of Iranians and Iranian Americans at the Washington/Canada Border 

January 6, 2020

We write to share extremely disconcerting news, and to share important information with you regarding new immigration incidents affecting Iranian Americans and Iranians in the U.S.  Please read the below carefully and share this information with your friends and family. 

What We Know And Don’t Know 

Over the last 36 hours, there have been alarming reports of more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans being detained at length and questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Peace Arch Border in Washington State/Canadian border.  Many of the individuals detained were U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including some of whom were returning after a short day trip from Seattle to Vancouver. Upon arrival, individuals were given an orange card, their passports were taken away and were directed to wait. After being detained for extended periods of time, some as many as 10 hours, the individuals were subjected to extensive questioning, during which they were asked invasive inquiries, such as their family and employment histories, and questions about the individuals’ and even their parents’ military service in Iran.  In cases where families arrived together, and one family member was of Iranian origin, the entire family was kept for questioning. Some families detained for extended periods were told that they had to undergo a background check, which needed to be cleared by Washington DC. Due to the large number of individuals arriving at the Peace Arch Border, and the long delays in processing, individuals were turned away and asked to return at a later time.

While our investigation has revealed the foregoing, there is still much we do not know. Across the country, we are hearing conflicting reports of Iranians and Iranian Americans being detained and questioned at other airports, while others are being admitted with minimal questioning.  As of now, it is unclear if there is a national directive from CBP to detain individuals with Iranian heritage. CBP has denied that there is a national directive, and CBP officers have indicated that, due to heightened security, they are conducting full background checks on individuals who are “suspicious or adversarial.”  However, given the reports received, including both geographically and of individuals being detained, further confirmation is required to determine if this is a localized or national directive.

Community Resources

As we continue to investigate and gather information, if you, your family, or your friends are traveling, and have been detained and questioned, please fill out our confidential intake form.

Know Your Rights

Despite the current political climate, Iranian Americans who are U.S. citizens, “green card holders” (also called “lawful permanent residents” or “LPRs”), and visa holders have rights at the border. Absent specific indicia of credible threats by specific individuals, your rights for being questioned and searched at the border have not changed. If you are traveling or have family and friends that are traveling, please review the Iranian-American Community Advisory- Know Your Rights at the Border and Airport available in English and Farsi. Please help us disseminate this information, as it may help your family, friends, and loved ones. 

We Are Here To Help

As a coalition of Iranian American organizations, we are committed to the community of Iranians and Iranian Americans in the U.S., and your families.  We will continue to investigate and monitor this troubling development, will provide you information and updates, and will continue to fight to protect your and your families’ rights and interests. Additionally, we will continue working with, and advocating before, our elected representatives and allies, not only to get to the bottom of what is happening, but to seek remedies to resolve it. Please stay tuned.   

For additional information, you may contact:

Iranian Alliances Across Borders, Mana Kharrazi (mana@iranianalliances.org
Iranian American Bar Association, Ramin Montazeri (ram7nyc@gmail.com
National Iranian American Council, Donna Faravard (dfarvard@niacouncil.org
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, Ali Rahnama (Ali.Rahnama@paaia.org)

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