As tensions between the United States and Iran escalate, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is denying reports that the agency has refused entry to some Iranian-Americans and detained others.
“Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false,” Michael Friel, a spokesperson for CBP, told HuffPost in a statement. “Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”
The Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has said it’s heard from more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans who had traveled from Canada into the U.S. CAIR said individuals were “detained at length and questioned … about their political views and allegiances.”
“These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens,” Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA, said in a statement. “We are working to verify reports of a broad nationwide directive to detain Iranian-Americans at ports of entry so that we can provide community members with accurate travel guidance.”
CBP has increased its presence at ports of entry around the country in recent days, and wait times at the port of entry in Blaine, Washington, jumped to about two hours on Saturday night, with some travelers waiting for up to four hours to enter the U.S.
HuffPost has not independently confirmed reports of any detentions.
Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib (D) wrote on Twitter Sunday that his office has also received reports of Iranian-Americans struggling to enter the United States at the Canadian border. He said officials are “working to help those being affected” and gathering more information about the claims. Other state lawmakers said they, too, had heard of the reports and were actively seeking more information.
The reports add to international concerns about the dramatic rise in tensions after President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s Maj. General Qassem Suleimani, one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East, in an airstrike on the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.
Iran on Sunday ended its remaining commitments to limit nuclear fuel production as part of its landmark nuclear deal, and the country voted to expel American troops from its borders. Iran has also vowed to respond to the airstrike in a “crushing and powerful manner,” although it’s not clear what form such retaliation might take.
Trump has continued to ratchet up his own hard-line rhetoric. On Sunday, he said the U.S. has selected 52 important sites in Iran it is willing to strike, including cultural landmarks, in a warning to the country not to attack American assets.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded with fury, saying targeting cultural sites would amount to a “war crime.” Doing so is against international law.