Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal Accuses U.S. Border Security Of Targeting Iranians In Blaine, Washington

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks at a Congressional Tri-Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, on injustice and inequality in America. The Congressional Tri-Caucus is comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Indo-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and other human rights advocates are condemning the up to 12-hour detentions of more than 60 Iranian-Americans at the U.S. border on Saturday at the Blaine, Wash., crossing.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has said nobody was detained because of their background, and the delays at the border were related to staffing issues and a pop concert that large groups of Iranians were attending.

But Jayapal and other human rights advocates said what happened this weekend was wrong, if not illegal.

“It was the result of some sort of directive that we are trying to get to the bottom of what that was. I understand that CBP has said that no such thing occurred, but it is difficult to believe that when you listen to the multiple accounts of what happened,” said Jayapal in a news conference in Seattle on Monday.

Jayapal is a U.S. representative from Washington’s 7th congressional district which encompasses Seattle and suburban King County.

She said her office is trying to gather information to determine exactly what happened and why.

“This seemed to be a directive to pull aside anybody of Iranian descent,” said Jayapal.

She said witnesses described more than 60 people facing up to 11 or 12 hour delays as they crossed into the U.S. after shopping, skiing or visiting Canada for various reasons.

“We have been in touch with a number of people  [U.S. citizens] who are afraid to say anything,’ said Jayapal.

Many of the U.S. or Canadian citizens affected were also Nexus cardholders. A Nexus card is an expedited border control program designed to pre-approve low-risk travellers.

At the Monday morning news conference, 38-year-old interior designer Negah Hekmati, who settled in the U.S. more than seven years ago, described her ordeal at the border.

On Saturday, she was returning from a ski trip when she, her five- and eight-year-old children and her husband faced a five-hour delay and questioning. She said that her passport and car keys were confiscated by authorities, and her family was not allowed to wait in their vehicle where the children could have slept.

“[The children] were very frightened,” said Hekmati.

Rights advocates at the news conference said that many U.S.-Iranians told a similar story of U.S. border patrol agents asking them to exit their cars and step inside the building. Once inside, their passports were confiscated and and they waited in lines before being questioned for hours about family, school and work histories.


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