There are two versions of what happened Saturday night when more than 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans were returning to the U.S. at the Blaine border crossing after attending a Persian pop concert in Vancouver, B. C.
According to Washington’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they were detained, some for as long as 11 hours.
According to U. S. Customs and Border Protection, “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. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”
The people detained had traveled to British Columbia to see Masih & Arash Ap, the Persian duo who are called “the voice of love,” on their Canada Tour 2020, according to CAIR.
Jay Gairson, a Seattle national security immigration attorney who volunteers with CAIR, said about what the Iranian Americans say they experienced on Saturday night, “I’m almost positive this has to be related to General [Qassem] Soleimani’s death,” the top Iranian military commander killed last week in a U.S. air strike.
Gairson said that among the few specifics he’s gotten back from those detained, who so far have not publicly come forward, is that, for example, “They were asked if they had been a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. government is concerned about retaliation from Iran.”
The CBP says that “based on the current threat environment,” it routinely adjusts staffing. At Blaine, according to the agency, wait times on Saturday evening increased to an average of two hours, although some travelers experienced wait time of up to four hours because of increased traffic volume and reduced staffing during the holiday season. By Sunday morning, the wait was 40 minutes, it says.
On Sunday, the state’s politicians responded to the reports, which had spread on social media, of Iranian Americans being detained at the Blaine border crossing.
Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted that his office “is closely tracking reports” of the detainments.
And Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, issued a statement saying her office was investigating reports that the CBP “targets people of Iranian heritage, regardless of their citizenship status, for questioning or further punitive actions. If these reports are true, the Administration would be following its dangerous foreign policy decisions with dangerous policies here at home.”
Gairson said the wording from the CBP was very careful, in that it said the Iranian Americans were not “detained.”
That’s different, he said, from a secondary screening, which can take hours to complete.
The CAIR statement quoted a woman named Crystal, 24, whose last name was not used, who said she was kept at the crossing more than 10 hours.
“We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for traveling and was told, ‘I’m sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys,’ ” she was quoted as saying.