BLAINE, Wash. — Washington state lawmakers are denouncing an apparently leaked internal memo that instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to detain and question travelers of Iranian descent at the U.S.-Canada border.
The memo allegedly leaked following a U.S. airstrike that killed General Qasem Soleimani.
The leaked memo comes just weeks after one group said more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were stopped at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Wash.
At the time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied claims that anyone was unfairly detained.
But now, Washington Congress members Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene are pointing to this document directing agents at the border to vet anyone born in Iran, Lebanon, or the Palestinian region between 1961 and 2001, as well as anyone with ties to those areas.
Congressman Larsen said in a statement Thursday, "Citizens and non-citizens alike deserve to be treated with compassion and human dignity. This callous policy is unacceptable and appalling."
Congresswoman Delbene echoed a similar sentiment, saying in part "There is no excuse for this behavior and lack of transparency. I’ll continue to demand an explanation for why these discriminatory acts were directed by CBP."
38-year-old Negah Hekmati, of Kirkland, was coming home from a ski trip with her family when they were stopped at the border. Every member of the family has the Nexus Trusted Traveler card, but the Iranian-born Hekmati said her family was questioned for hours.
“As soon as they realized we were born in Iran, they lead us to the office and they held us there for five hours,” she said during an interview with KING 5 after the incident. “They had our car keys, they had our passports, and we asked if we could go to our car because my kids need to sleep.”
Hekemeti told reporters that her entire family has U.S. citizenship. The early morning questioning frightened her children, ages 5 and 8.
“They were afraid if they go to sleep. They may take us to the jail and see that we’re not there,” she said, “It’s not okay.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday they cannot comment on leaked documents, but said they never issued a directive to deny entry to any individual.
The agency released its full statement to KING 5: "As the agency charged with safeguarding the American people and the nation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection remains vigilant and is operating with an enhanced security posture at U.S. ports of entry. 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. 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. As a result, some travelers may experience increased wait times and subsequent interviews. CBP has established strict oversight policies and procedures to ensure traveler screening practices adhere to all constitutional and statutory requirements. CBP is committed to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of every individual whom we encounter. 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."
The incident at the U.S.-Canadian border remains under investigation, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.