CBP Admits Unfairly Targeting Iranian American Travelers


Widespread reports of U.S. Customs and Border Protection detaining Iranian American travelers at the northern border surfaced soon after the U.S. attacked and killed a top Iranian general. At the time, CBP officials stated that although travelers experienced increased wait times, they were not targeting travelers of Iranian descent.

After two U.S. representatives from Washington met with CBP’s director of field operations in Seattle, however, they publicly released statements to the contrary. They explained that not only did CBP make mistakes during the incidents, but they breached protocol and inappropriately singled out Iranian Americans crossing the border.

CBP Admits Unfairly Targeting Iranian American Travelers

Soon thereafter, CNN published an internal CBP memorandum that directed U.S. border officers at Canadian ports of entry to detain and question all travelers of Iranian descent, including American citizens. Additionally, the memo targeted individuals born in Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, as well as anyone with connections to these countries or territories for U.S. border officers to submit to vetting.

As a result, some American citizens of Iranian descent were subjected to hours of questioning about their birth countries, their religious affiliations, and past military service. Some officers confiscated car keys and passports belonging to the travelers while they were questioned. Over two days, from January 4 – 5, 2020, border officials detained over 200 such travelers based on their heritages alone.

An unnamed U.S. border officer also confirmed the existence of the internal directives to detain and question those of Iranian descent, regardless of their citizenship status. The officer also stated that as soon as CNN published the internal memo, CBP withdrew the directive.

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