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Homeland Security investigating after Iranian-Americans say they were detained at Washington border

"As soon as they realized we were born in Iran, they lead us to the office and they held us there for five hours. They had our car keys, they had our passports."

BLAINE, Wash. — The Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is investigating after reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were held up and questioned at the border as they returned to Washington from Canada earlier this week. 

The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington.  

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman is denying reports that Iranian-Americans were detained or refused entry because of where they were born.

DHS confirmed to Congresswoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal's office that the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is sending investigators to Washington state but did not elaborate on the scope of the investigation. 

38-year-old Negah Hekmati, of Kirkland, said she was coming home on Saturday night with her husband and two young children. 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 recalled. “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.”  

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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 Hekmati’s were released around 5 a.m. on Sunday. She said they had been in Canada for a ski trip, and were carrying skis on the roof rack of their car at the time of crossing.  

Jorge Baron, of Immigrant Rights Northwest, said at least 60 people were detained and questioned, although things have seemed to return to normal on Monday.

Individuals who were impacted can email crclcompliance@hq.dhs.gov.

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