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Jayapal Leads Five Colleagues In Pressing The Trump Administration On Reports Of Iranian Americans Being Held At Border

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship and Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, today led five colleagues in writing to the Trump Administration to demand more information on reports that as many as 200 Iranian Americans were targeted for secondary screening and held for up to 12 hours at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington over the weekend of January 4, 2020.

In their letter to Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf, Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan, and Blaine Sector Port Director Kenneth L. Williams, Jayapal and her colleagues requested the Administration produce any “directives, orders, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications” issued to CBP officers, port directors, or Blaine Sector employees “regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage,” or “any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani” by January 21, 2020.

In addition to Jayapal, today’s letter was signed by: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security Chairwoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY).

“We write to express our alarm about U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reportedly holding large numbers of people of Iranian heritage in secondary inspection for up to 12 hours over the weekend of January 4-5, 2020, at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington,” wrote the lawmakers.

In their letter, Jayapal and her colleagues also questioned CBP’s public explanations that attributed long waits to high traffic during late hours and lower staffing levels, writing that these statements “do not explain why impacted persons were overwhelmingly of Iranian heritage, nor why pre-cleared U.S. citizen travelers would have been placed in secondary inspection and delayed for five hours,” or “why individuals appear to have been detained throughout the day on January 4, beginning as early as 8:00 am.”

Yesterday, Jayapal held a press conference where she called into question CBP’s response, stood in solidarity with Negah Hekmati—one of the people impacted at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington—as she shared her story.

The full text of the letter is pasted below and available here.

January 7, 2020

The Honorable Chad Wolf                                                                 

Acting Secretary                                                        

U.S. Department of Homeland Security                    

Washington, D.C. 20528                                           

Mark A. Morgan

Acting Commissioner

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Washington, D.C. 20004

Kenneth L. Williams

Port Director, Blaine Sector

Blaine, WA 98230

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf, Acting Commissioner Morgan, and Port Director Williams:

We write to express our alarm about U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reportedly holding large numbers of people of Iranian heritage in secondary inspection for up to 12 hours over the weekend of January 4-5, 2020, at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington. 

The New York Times reported that more than 60 people were held in secondary inspection for up to 10 hours. Observers on the ground have reported that as many as 200 people were held for secondary inspection during this period. Many impacted individuals were U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including seniors and children. In one case, CBP held a family of four U.S. citizens of Iranian descent—who were pre-screened for expedited processing as Nexus pass holders—for nearly five hours.

In response to criticism, CBP stated that “CBP field leadership participated in a teleconference with Acting Commissioner Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Perez, where the field was asked to remain vigilant and increase their situational awareness given the evolving threat environment.” CBP also released statements attributing long waits to high traffic during late hours, when the port has lower staffing levels. These statements, however, do not explain why impacted persons were overwhelmingly of Iranian heritage, nor why pre-cleared U.S. citizen travelers would have been placed in secondary inspection and delayed for five hours.  The statements also do not explain why individuals appear to have been detained throughout the day on January 4, beginning as early as 8:00 am.

In response to these troubling reports, we request a briefing on the matters discussed above by no later than January 21, 2020.  We also request the following documents, including transcripts or written descriptions of any verbal communications, by January 21, 2020:

  1. Any directives, orders, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications—issued on or after January 2, 2020—from any Department of Homeland Security or CBP official to CBP Agents or Officers regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage or any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani.
  2. Any directives, orders, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications specific to the Blaine Sector regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage or any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani.
  3. Any directives, orders, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications to Port Directors regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage or any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani.
  4. Any directives, guidance, instructions, musters, whether verbal or in writing, or other documents and communications from any Port Director to CBP Agents or Officers regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage or any other changes in screening procedures in response to the death of Qasem Soleimani.
  5. For the Blaine Port of Entry (POE) from January 3-6, 2020, data on the number of people subject to secondary inspection, including a breakdown by age, ethnicity, country of birth, immigration status, and length of time in secondary inspection.
  6. For the Blaine POE, from January 3-6, 2020, the total number of on-duty CBP agents assigned to the processing of travelers, for each hour of the day.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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