House Democrats sent a letter to the Trump administration Tuesday demanding answers over reports that up to 200 Iranian-Americans were sent for secondary screening and held for up to 12 hours at the Canadian border over the weekend.
The letter sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which was signed by six House Democrats who chair relevant committees or subcommittees, was intended to “express our alarm” over media reports about the detentions at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash.
“Many impacted individuals were U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including seniors and children,” the letter reads.
The lawmakers added that CBP’s explanations “do not explain why impacted persons were overwhelmingly of Iranian heritage, nor why pre-cleared U.S. citizen travelers would have been placed in secondary inspection and delayed for five hours.”
The six Democrats requested a briefing on the matter by Jan. 21 and requested documents regarding any directives or instructions regarding the screening of individuals of Iranian heritage, among other things.
The letter was signed by Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security Chairwoman Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.).
CBP pointed The Hill to past statements dismissing claims that Iranian-Americans specifically were targeted. The agency also noted that border crossings have generally been subjected to bolstered security measures in response to the increased threat environment surrounding rising tensions with Tehran. Officials noted that longer wait times were an unintended consequence for some travelers.
The reported screening and detention of Iranian-Americans comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran following a U.S. strike last week that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian military figure who led the country’s elite Quds Force.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh retaliation” over the killing of Soleimani, who was known to be a close associate of the Iranian leader and directed Tehran’s international network of proxy forces.
The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that Iran launched over a dozen missiles against two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces.