January 08, 2020

Warren Demands Answers on Reports of Iranians and Iranian Americans Held Up at Border Crossings

Dozens Reportedly Questioned for Hours about Political or Religious Views, Others Denied Entry

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan requesting information regarding recent reports that dozens of Iranian Americans and others of Iranian heritage have been subjected to additional scrutiny at United States border crossings or have been denied entry into the country.

Last week, following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Soleimani's successor vowed revenge against the United States. On January 4, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin stating that "Iran and its partners, such as Hizballah, have demonstrated the intent and capability to conduct operations in the United States."

That same day, more than 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans attempting to reenter the United States from Canada "were detained at length and questioned" while "(m)any more were reportedly refused entry to the United States," according to the Washington State chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Press reports indicate that the total number of people held at the border might have totaled between 100 to 200, with advocates saying the people who were held received questions "about their political views or religious views and practices."  There have also been reports of people of Iranian heritage at other ports of entry being held and subjected to enhanced scrutiny since Soleimani's death.

While CBP has issued statements denying that Iranian Americans are being detained or refused entry into the United States due to their country of origin, the agency has not addressed the troubling reports from individuals held at the border, news outlets, immigration attorneys, and civil rights and civil liberties groups, nor has it addressed other potential reasons for holding people of Iranian descent at the border.   

In her letter, Senator Warren expressed concern about these reports and posed questions to determine whether Iranian Americans and others are being singled out for unfair or possibly illegal practices by CBP personnel. 

"The new threat warning from DHS is serious, and CBP should be taking lawful and appropriate action to protect national security," the senator wrote. "But the conflicting information circulating about CBP personnel's treatment of Iranian Americans and people who are or are perceived to be of Iranian heritage raises questions about what agency policies are in effect, and how CBP is 'safeguard(ing) our national security ... while simultaneously protecting the civil rights and liberties of everyone.'"

To address her concerns, Senator Warren asked CBP to answer a series of questions about the agency's policies and practices at its ports of entry since January 2, 2020, the day that Soleimani was killed. The senator requested answers to her questions by January 14, 2020.

Senator Warren has actively opposed discriminatory efforts by the Trump Administration, including its Muslim ban.