Arriving at the U.S. border in Washington State early Sunday after a skiing trip to Canada, Negah Hekmati and her family were pulled out of line for questioning by Customs and Border Protection agents. The family found itself in a room filled with fellow Iranian-Americans, many of whom had been held for hours. The agents wanted to know the identities of Hekmati’s parents, siblings, uncles and cousins. The family was held for five overnight hours at the Peace Arch Border Crossing. More than 100 people of Iranian descent faced similar delays at Washington’s border with Canada over the weekend, a process Gov. Jay Inslee called the inappropriate “detention” of people, including U.S. citizens, who had done nothing wrong, reports the New York Times. “I don’t think there’s any reason that is rational — and certainly constitutional — to target people based on the place of their birth,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that that’s what they did here.”
The stepped-up border screenings came after a U.S. drone strike on Friday killed a powerful Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani. Customs and Border Protection officials insisted that no one was detained or refused entry “because of their country of origin.” However, agents often require people seeking admittance to undergo a process known as secondary screening. An agency official told members of Congress that local offices had been “asked to remain vigilant and increase their situational awareness given the evolving threat environment.” Legal advocates described cases of travelers questioned about their feelings about the U.S. and what was happening in Iran. U.S. citizens “do not have to answer questions about their political views or religious views and practices, and cannot be denied entry into the United States for declining to answer these questions,” said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.