The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has opened a civil rights inquiry into allegations that up to 100 Iranian-born travellers, many of them U.S. and Canadian citizens, were detained at British Columbia’s Peace Arch border crossing over the weekend.
U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and the Washington state branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) both report that the agency is probing the incident.
One Canadian man Global News spoke with said he and his family were detained for more than eight hours last Saturday due to their Iranian birthplaces, while customs officers asked detailed questions about their schooling and whether they’d served in the military.
CAIR Washington executive director Masih Fouladi said he was pleased when the DHS informed him it had opened an investigation, but that he was not overly optimistic.
“It’s really hard as a community organization that witnesses a lot of what is happening as a result of DHS’s work to have confidence in these types of investigations, especially if there isn’t going to be transparency,” he said.
Fouladi says his organization plans to meet with DHS in person before it gets underway, but that he hasn’t been told how the investigation will proceed and is concerned it’s more of a public relations exercise.
The ideological leanings of the current U.S. administration also give him cause for concern, he said.
“To say the least, I am skeptical that kind of transparency will be available during this Trump administration,” said Fouladi.
“While I had seen positive work coming out of the office for civil rights prior to the Trump administration I think it’s a little bit harder for them to do their job.”
WA. Rep. Jayapal, who is also vice-chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship and who wrote to the Trump administration demanding more information about the secondary screening and detention, took to social media on Wednesday to encourage anyone who was affected by the incident to contact the DHS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has denied that there was a national order issued to detain anyone with Iranian heritage.
It also issued a statement saying that “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.”
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee appeared to have little time for that claim, however, issuing his own statement Monday saying the CBP’s denial was “simply not credible.”