Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says her office is looking into what happened at a Canada-U.S. border crossing over the weekend when dozens of Canadians and Americans of Iranian descent were held for hours.
Advocates and travellers said that more than 60 people travelling to the United States from Canada were held at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash., for hours Saturday evening and questioned about their family members and political views.
Ms. Jayapal held a news conference Monday morning alongside Negah Hekmati, an interior designer who holds Canadian, American and Iranian citizenship. Ms. Hekmati said she was held at the border for five hours with her husband and two young children after a ski trip.
Ms. Jayapal said it is clear to her that the delays at the border were a result of the U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on the orders of U.S. President Donald Trump, which prompted Iran to vow revenge on the U.S.
“I think it’s very clear, particularly when you hear the timing of Negah ... her family having crossed that same border just days before, that this happened following the assassination of [Gen.] Soleimani and Trump’s increased military action in that region,” she said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency denied the allegations, saying in a statement: “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.” The agency said reports that the Department of Homeland Security or the CBP issued a related directive “are also false.”
Ms. Jayapal said it is difficult to believe the agency after hearing multiple accounts of what transpired. She said people had their passports taken away, were not allowed to leave and were “held in some form of detention." She vowed to find out what happened.
Ms. Hekmati said she and her family arrived at the border around midnight and were held there until five in the morning. Members of her family were born in either the U.S. or in Canada, and everyone was carrying a passport, she said.
She said border agents asked her about her Facebook account, her parents’ names and birthdays and about relatives living in the U.S.
“Our kids were so anxious, they didn’t sleep because they were afraid,” she said, adding her daughter told her not to speak Farsi.
Masih Fouladi, the executive director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also spoke at the news conference about hearing accounts from travellers. Some families, he said, had never been to Iran.
“We’ve heard tragic and troubling stories of what would be akin to loyalty questions being asked of these individuals, we heard stories of them being told to list the names of all their family members, give them their e-mails, turn over social media, and this is extremely troubling,” he said.
Hoda Katebi, an Iranian community organizer and activist based in Chicago, said she heard from Iranian-Americans who described being detained and asked intrusive questions.
“I think it’s a terrifying time to be Iranian whether or not you’re in the United States or Iran,” she said.
Jacqueline Callin, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said the CBSA is “aware of media reports alleging Iranian-Americans and/or Iranian-Canadians were held for several hours while trying to enter the United States,” in a statement.
Ms. Callin said that there has been no change to the CBSA’s operations and that the agency “has not issued alternate or special direction when it comes to the processing of Iranian/Iranian-Canadian nationals.”