By ARIANA GHALAMBOR
Over 60 Iranian-American citizens have been detained and held for additional questioning at the U.S. crossing border. Several Iranian-Americans claim they were traveling through Washington’s state border from Canada when they were held for hours at a time for questioning. The detainees held under suspicion were all citizens of the U.S. with permanent residency, and most had even been born in America with some Iranian heritage. They were asked questions regarding their political views, religious beliefs, family careers, background education and more personal questions.
When held under questioning, Iranian-American traveler, Masih Fouladi asked the agents why he and his family were being held in detention when the agent replied with, “this is a bad time to be an Iranian.” According to USA Today by Savannah Behrmann.
Not only have many Iranian-Americans been outraged by this, but many activists have posted on social media outlets advocating for the victims, such as Twitter and Instagram, about how disgusted they are with the incident and upset that the families were held under suspicion solely based on their ethnic background.
“Deeply disturbed by reports that Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, are being detained at the Canadian border with WA State.My office has been working on this all morning. Please contact us with information on directly affected people at WA07PJ_casework@mail.house.gov. “(Twitter)
“I’m deeply disturbed by reports that people of Iranian descent—including U.S. citizens—are being detained by CBP. In Orange County, we embrace our diversity, including our Iranian neighbors. If #CA45 residents need help with CBP or another agency, our OC office is ready to help.” (Twitter)
Although borders are known for carefully screening and questioning the passing-by travelers, it is no coincidence that almost 100 Iranians have been detained over the course of a weekend following the Iranian-American crisis with Soleimani’s death. Gil Kerlikowske, a former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said their “agents make sure to pay close attention to any traveler’s country of origin when that nation was considered a national security threat, especially countries like Iran” that over the past few weeks have had tensions with the U.S. Nonetheless, this behavior will not be tolerated and is not justifiable for the insulting effects it has put upon hundreds of innocent Iranian-American families.
“My office is closely tracking reports that Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, have been detained at the WA-Canada border.”(Twitter)
According to NewYork Times’ “dozens of Iranians and Iranian Americans report being detained at U.S. border crossing” by Mike Baker and Caitlin Dickerson, one of the detainees that chose to remain anonymous stated that federal agents “brought books, toys and coloring paper for our kids, and they brought some juice and crackers for everyone else,” she wrote. “When they brought the food, I started to cry because a strange feeling came to me. I felt like we were in jail, detained for so many hours. The officers had been nice and I can’t say there was mistreatment, but there were no explanations.” Unfortunately, not every detainee received such accommodating treatment. According to Crystal (whose last name was not disclosed to remain anonymous) said, “there was at least 60 of us,” she said. Her family got in line, where they would remain for an hour and a half before having their first conversation with an officer. They handed over their passports and car keys and began their long, exhausting wait.
“We didn’t get interviewed for probably like eight hours,” Crystal said. The space was filled with families. Many of the detainees had their U.S. or Canadian passports. “I knew there was young kids because I could hear them crying,” Crystal said. “There was a lot of old people.” She laid down on the floor and tried to sleep. “There was only one toilet for all of us, and it was filthy. It ran out of toilet paper. It ran out of paper towels. There were no outlets — nobody could charge their phones,” she said. “People can’t even cry,” she added. “There’s no tissues.” She later mentioned, “They didn’t even know why they had pulled us over,” she said. “We kept asking them questions. And they literally were like, ‘We’re sorry. We’re sorry. It shouldn’t be that long.’ But it took 11 and a half hours before we left.”
Habib (whose full name was not released to remain anonymous) was another victim of the detention and said that “people talking today have compared it to the travel ban, but I think it’s important to make the point that these are U.S. citizens. This is completely different…It really is about the government treating citizens differently based on where they’re from.”
Other Iranian-American detainees claimed that people of other races were held under questioning, but their cases were very brief and left shortly after. The Iranian-Americans had noticed they were being held for a much longer time period and felt as if they were being interrogated.
Ultimately, Iranian-Americans have been suffering since the Iranian-American sanction crises and as tensions continue to increase, it truly is a “bad time to be Iranian”. How the detainee officers and agents treated these victims was unjust and disgustingly racist. For President Trump to continue these tensions between Iran and the U.S. means that more Iranians will continue to face discrimination in America and be detained.
Featured Photo: Negah Hekmati talks about her traumatic detention experience following the Iranian-American tension crisis. View Negah Hekmati’s story here: Negah Hekmati’s Story (AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson)