A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer says the “extreme vetting” of dozens of people with Iranian backgrounds attempting to cross the border into Washington state earlier this month was a local initiative directed by the officer’s managers in Blaine, Wash.
The whistleblower came forward to Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders, who has revealed the allegations while protecting the officer’s identity over fears of retribution.
Speaking to both Global News and CKNW Thursday, Saunders said he received a “lengthy email” detailing what officers throughout the Blaine sector were told by their local managers overseeing the ports of entry.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained at length at the Peace Arch Border between Jan. 3 and 5.
Many of those held were coming back to the U.S. from an Iranian pop concert in Vancouver that weekend.
Some told Global News they spent up to eight hours at the crossing, while others have described waits as long as 12 hours. All said they were subjected to lengthy interviews from border agents after it was discovered they had been born in Iran, despite having U.S. or Canadian citizenship.
Saunders says the operation was only suspended around 1 p.m. on Jan. 5 after the detentions began receiving media coverage on both sides of the border.
“When the initiative went out to suspend the operation, the offers were told not to go to the media, not to speak to the media, and especially not admit that the operation had been occurring,” he said.
“I think this officer saw what was happening and realized it was probably illegal what the Americans were doing to these Iranian-born applicants for admission.”
Saunders said the officer’s account matched what the lawyer saw when he visited the Peace Arch point of entry on Jan. 5 and met with several Iranian people still being held.
While initial reports said the detentions were only taking place at the Peace Arch crossing, Saunders said he’s heard from other border officers that the directive also covered the rest of the ports of entry in the Blaine sector, including Bellingham and Sumas, Wash.
“I’ve never seen the Americans target a specific group of travellers,” he said. “It’s no different than if they were to limit every African-American from entering the United States.