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Border crackdown on Iranians a local initiative, whistleblower says


Last updated 1/8/2021 at 2:14pm

Louise Mugar

"Extreme vetting" of travelers with Iranian backgrounds occurred under the direction of Blaine port managers, a whistleblower says.

A Blaine-area Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer says the recent "extreme vetting" of travelers with Iranian backgrounds occurred under the direction of Blaine port managers. The allegation was revealed by local immigration attorney Len Saunders, a frequent commentator on border issues.

As earlier reported by The Northern Light, more than 60 U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Iranian heritage were subjected to enhanced screenings on January 4 and 5 as they entered the U.S. at the Peace Arch border crossing. Many were returning home from an Iranian pop concert that had taken place in Vancouver.

Following a U.S. airstrike on an Iranian military commander in Iraq, some of the travelers reported being detained for up to 12 hours, while others said they were turned away and refused entry due to CBP's lack of capacity to handle them. Border security was enhanced nationwide during the period of escalating military tensions with Iran.

At the time, it was thought that the detentions were limited to the Peace Arch crossing, but the CBP whistleblower said Iranian-born travelers were detained at other border crossings in the Blaine sector as well. Saunders told The Northern Light that the CBP officer asked not to be identified due to concerns about retribution, with the officer citing the existence of a "blacklist" of officers blocked from career advancement.

Travelers were selected for counterterrorism inspections based solely upon their national origin, the officer said, adding that there were no immigration or customs reasons to detain them. Once the detentions became national news, Blaine port director Kenneth Williams put out a directive on January 5 at 1 p.m. saying the operation was suspended, the CBP officer said. According to the source, officers have been told not to talk to the press about the matter.

The CBP officer also addressed the issue of expedited removals (ERs), saying assistant port director John Dahm was behind the recent increase in the number of ERs being imposed on Canadians crossing the border. ERs typically mean that individuals are banned from entering the U.S. for a period of time, usually five years. In December, the CBC reported that ERs on the northern border had jumped 97 percent to 616 from October 2018 to September 2019, compared to 312 in the previous 12-month period. According to Saunders, CBP's Seattle Field Office accounted for 309 and 91, respectively, of those numbers, about 50 percent of the total in 2019 versus 29 percent in 2018. There are four field offices on the northern border.

The CBP officer said there was very little support from line officers for the ERs that the Blaine area has been imposing on Canadians since last year, describing the ERs as outrageous and contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act and past government practice.

For more on this story, visit The Northern Light at:



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