On January 5, 2020, hundreds of U.S. residents of Iranian descent—including U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, and Canadian citizens—were detained and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington, as they attempted to reenter the United States. Moreover, many others were denied entry altogether because U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) lacked adequate detention capacity. Those who were detained were held for up to 15 hours in a room without food, water, or explanations. And when these residents were finally questioned, CBP often asked about topics unrelated to their recent travel, such as their political views, allegiances, relatives, and military service. One CBP official flatly stated, “I’m sorry, this is just the wrong time for you guys [persons of Iranian descent].”
Additionally, CBP has reportedly disseminated an order to report and detain anyone with Iranian heritage who is deemed potentially suspicious or adversarial, regardless of their citizenship status. CBP has publicly denied both the existence of this order and that it is refusing entry to U.S. citizens of Iranian descent. But there are multiple credible reports from immigration attorneys, advocacy organizations, and first-hand accounts suggesting that the report and this process are both factually true and widespread.
Accordingly, if you are a person of Iranian descent, you may want to reconsider international travel. But if you do travel, you should know your rights. Generally, (1) U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry for refusing to answer questions, but invoking your rights may cause delays; (2) Green Card holders cannot be refused entry unless they have spent an extended time outside the United States or have committed certain crimes; and (3) noncitizen visa holders may be denied entry for refusing to cooperate. Please understand that all persons of Iranian descent—including U.S. citizens—may be subject to detention for hours without food or water. Thus, the elderly and sick will be the most vulnerable to the implementation of these policies.
For more information, please review a “know your rights” brochure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”), which you can find in English, Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Farsi, Somali, and Urdu here: https://www.cair.com/KnowYourRights. For legal advice concerning your unique factual circumstances, please call us at (832) 501-1666, or contact us online, to schedule a preliminary consultation.