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Leaked memo ordered U.S. border officials to question travellers with links to Iran: lawyer

Leaked internal memo directs U.S. customs officers to interrogate people linked to Iran
A leaked internal memo appears to confirm the existence of a controversial screen process at the Canada-U.S. border that U.S. customs denied existed. Jill Bennett reports.

A U.S.-based immigration lawyer says he was delivered a leaked memo that appears to be from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) field office directing frontline officers to vet individuals with links to Iran.

Global News has obtained a copy of the memo dropped off by an anonymous tipster at Len Saunders’ office in Blaine, Wash.

The memo, written on letterhead from the CBP’s Seattle field office and titled “Iranian Supreme Leader Vows Forceful Revenge after US kills Maj. General Qassim Suleimani in Baghdad — Threat Alert High,” tells officers to question people born between 1961 and 2001 with links to a number of Middle Eastern countries, and specifically Iranian and Lebanese nationals.

Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian military general, was killed in a U.S. strike in Baghdad on Jan. 2.

Iranian-born U.S. citizen allegedly detained at border for at least five hours says she felt ‘anxious’
Iranian-born U.S. citizen allegedly detained at border for at least five hours says she felt ‘anxious’

The memo directs officers to ask individuals with military connections about their religious affiliations, to determine whether they are members of the Quds special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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“Even if they are not of Shia faith, anyone can state they are Baha’i, please question further to determine this is the case,” the memo reads.

“When in doubt send for high side checks.”

READ MORE: ‘Extreme vetting’ of Iranians crossing Canada-U.S. border was local directive: CBP whistleblower

The memo comes weeks after reports that more than 60 people of Iranian heritage were held for hours at the Peace Arch Border crossing between British Columbia and Washington between Jan. 3 and 5. Many of the individuals were heading back into the United States after attending a concert in Vancouver.

Last week, Saunders told Global News he received a lengthy email from a CBP whistleblower, who claimed the orders to question the individuals were a local directive.

He said a man in a hoodie dropped off a copy of the memo in an envelope at his office Wednesday, but declined to give his name.

“So I opened it up, and inside is basically the smoking gun,” Saunders said.

“It’s the memo that seems to be issued that weekend when all of the Iranian-born applicants for admission — whether they were Canadian or American — were sent inside for no apparent reason. According to CBP they just said they were just random inspections.”

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Global News sent a copy of the memo to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for comment.

A CBP official said he couldn’t comment on leaked documents, and didn’t provide a comment on whether the leaked memo actually came from the Seattle field office.

He said the matter was being investigated, and at no point did DHS issue a directive to “deny entry” to any person.

When asked for clarification about whether there was a directive to question or detain individuals, the official directed Global News to their previous statement.

“CBP has understood Iran and its proxies to be a very capable adversary for some time. Consistent with our statutory authorities, CBP leverages all available tools and information to ensure that individuals who seek entry into the United States are appropriately screened,” reads the statement.

READ MORE: Iranians held up at U.S.-Canadian border amid escalating political tensions, group says

“As part of a multi-layered approach to security, CBP officers may refer for additional screening individuals who present a known risk or individuals about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk. These referrals are based on factors that could include the individual’s activities, associations and travel patterns.”

The official said officers do not discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

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Earlier this month, the Washington state branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told Global News the DHS had opened an investigation into the matter through the CBP’s Office of Civil Liberties.

READ MORE: ‘We were anxious’: Iranian family says they were held at U.S.-Canada border for hours

But Saunders said he’s not confident the investigation will be done in good faith, noting that he hasn’t been contacted by investigators despite being open about what he has learned.

“You’d think the investigators, the first stop they’d make in Blaine would be to question me,” he said.

“They’re investigating themselves. This is CBP Homeland Security investigating CBP Homeland Security, so I don’t have a lot of confidence that this investigation will be anything other than lip service for the media.”

CAIR has previously voiced its concerns over the investigation.

Earlier this month, CAIR-Washington executive director Masih Faloudi told Global News his organization wanted to meet with the DHS to get a sense of how the investigation would be carried out.

“To see if this is a true investigation that’s going to look into all the facts and hold people accountable if those findings show there was discrimination based on national origin, or if this is more of a PR stunt.”