On January 4, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detained and questioned more than 60 individuals of Iranian descent at a Washington State border crossing as they attempted to return to the United States from Canada. According to news reports, CBP officers questioned a number of the travelers about their families, military backgrounds, and ties to Iran.
In response to concerns expressed by immigration advocates that CBP was singling Iranians out due to tensions between the United States and Iran, CBP issued a statement stating:
Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false. Reports that [Department of Homeland Security]/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.
According to CBP, processing times were slow due to staffing shortages and the volume of people seeking to enter the United States. News reports indicate that most of the travelers were released after being questioned and were admitted to the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently updated the National Terrorism Advisory System to warn against potential threats against the United States from Iran. In its January 4, 2020 Bulletin, DHS stated that while there are currently no credible threats, the agency will be working to detect and defend against potential threats and will enhance security measures as needed. Since it is unclear what these security measures may entail, out of an abundance of caution, individuals with Iranian heritage, including those who are U.S. citizens, may want to remain in the United States. Those who travel internationally may risk being subjected to additional scrutiny upon their return to the United States.
Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to the situation and will post updates on our immigration blog as additional information becomes available.