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US detains more than 60 Iranian-Americans at Canadian border

Iranian-Americans detained by US Customs and Border Control as they return from a concert in Canada
Detentions come after US kills top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani (AFP/File photo)

The United States detained more than 60 Iranian-Americans at a US-Canada border crossing in the state of Washington, according to the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Many were crossing the Peace Arch Border in Blaine, Washington, returning home from an Iranian pop concert on Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.

Once reaching the border, more than 60 people were detained at length and questioned by the US Customs and Border Control (CBP).

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"Many more are turned around at the border and refused the opportunity to enter the United States due to a lack of capacity for Customs and Border Patrol to detain them," CAIR's Washington chapter said in a joint news release with Hoda Katebi, an Iranian American community organiser and fashion blogger.

Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal tweeted that she was "deeply disturbed" by the reports of these detentions.

CAIR reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had issued a national order to CBP to "report" and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the US who was deemed potentially suspicious, regardless of their citizenship status.

"This is a HUGE DEAL. Iranians who have been born and raised in the USA are literally being ILLEGALLY DETAINED for 11+ hours for NO REASON & interrogated with intrusive and inappropriate questions about political opinions, what courses they or their parents studied in college," Katebi tweeted.

CBP said it was not detaining individuals because of their country of origin.

"Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the US because of their country of origin are false. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false," CBP spokesperson Michael Friel told Middle East Eye in an email.

CAIR Washington's executive director, Masih Fouladi, said the reports of detentions "are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens".

Mana Mostatabi, communications director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), told Middle East Eye that potentially as many as 150 individuals have been detained, with some being held for 11-16 hours. 

Individuals were asked about their relatives, occupations, birthdays, the last time they visited Iran and their opinions on current tensions, Mostatabi said, according to initial research conducted by NIAC.

"The common denominator is Iranian heritage, which should raise immediate concerns of discriminatory and illegal actions targeting on the basis of national origin," Mostatabi said.

She also noted there were additional unconfirmed reports of detentions at San Francisco Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

The detentions come amid extremely heightened tensions between the US and Iran after Washington killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike on Friday.

Anti-war protesters took to the streets of the US capital, as well as about 70 other US cities, on Saturday to condemn the actions of President Donald Trump.