A Blaine immigration lawyer said Thursday he has obtained what appears to be a photocopied memo from the Seattle Field Office of Customs and Border Protection directing officers to vet Iranian and Lebanese nationals, among others, including people of any nationality who had traveled to Iran or Lebanon.
U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, said she was working to verify the authenticity of the memo and has requested an immediate meeting with the Seattle field office director.
Attorney Len Saunders said the memo was left at his office Wednesday in a white, sealed envelope by a man in a hoodie who did not give his name. Saunders said the memo is proof — despite earlier agency denials — of a directive for prolonged stops and questioning of people based on their ethnic heritage over the weekend of Jan. 4. The stops caused an uproar. Most if not all of those stopped — as many as 200 people, according to Jayapal — were American citizens or green card holders.
“Oh my god, this is the smoking gun,” Saunders said of the photocopy dropped off at his office.
CBP spokesperson Jason Givens said the agency “does not comment on leaked documents.”
The agency has denied there was a directive.
But Jayapal said CBP officials held a telephone briefing for legislative staff last Thursday during which it became “clear that the CBP Seattle Field Office issued guidance targeting people of Iranian heritage.”
A Palestinian woman and Lebanese man also told The Seattle Times they were subject to lengthy stops.
“This document, if verified as coming from the Seattle CBP Field Office, matches exactly the process described by CBP leadership in a briefing last week, our own sources inside CBP, and the credible and powerful accounts from travelers who faced extreme profiling at the U.S.-Canada border,” Jayapal said in a statement.
The document, shared by Saunders with The Seattle Times and first reported by the Blaine newspaper The Northern Light, bears what looks like a Department of Homeland Security seal and one that cannot be clearly made out from the photocopy.
After hearing about stops lasting up to 12 hours, Jayapal and other members of Congress sent a letter to administration officials expressing alarm and asking for all related orders and directives. Jayapal said she has yet to receive any.
“This memo shows the CBP’s initial story, that the detainments were caused by staffing issues, to be a falsehood,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, who has also asked the administration for documents.
“Iranian Supreme Leader vows Forceful Revenge after US Kills Maj. General Qassim Suleimani in Baghdad — Threat Alert High” is the heading on the undated memo Saunders said he received, which appeared to be issued from the tactical analytical unit of the CBP Seattle Field Office. That office is headquartered in Blaine and covers 67 border crossings from Washington to Minnesota.
The memo, which is not entirely grammatical, refers to “updated procedures” requiring vetting for individuals who were born after 1961 and before 2001 and met certain criteria, among them being Iranian and Lebanese nationals and having “any Nexus” to “Palestinians and Lebanese.” “High side vetting criteria” pertained to those with connection to the military, extremist ideology, links to terrorism, “deceptive behaviors” and “criminality or associates to criminality.”
“Seattle Field Office TAU will be notified of all results,” the memo said in an apparent reference to the tactical analytical unit.
CBP’s Givens on Thursday referred to a previous statement when asked about the memo. “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,” the statement said.
It continued, “Our officers are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” Doing so would be illegal, according to Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
A previous CBP email to members of Congress said when agency leaders learned of the Blaine reports, they quickly contacted local officials to make sure screenings were “based upon a totality of circumstances.”
Saunders last week said he received another indication, in the form of an email from a CBP officer he knows, that people were being targeted for one reason alone: their national origin.
“The story here is the cover-up,” Saunders said. “They continue to deny it happened.”