Emails Show CBP Detained Hundreds of Iranians for Hours Pursuant to Unlawful Directive

For Immediate Release

November 17th, 2020

Media Contacts

Matt Adams, NWIRP Legal Director – (206) 957-8611, matt@nwirp.org

Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR-WA Executive Director – imraansiddiqi@cair.com

Brianna Auffray, CAIR-WA Legal and Policy Manager – (206) 367-4081, bauffray@cair.com

 


 

Seattle, WA – Today, following a court order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granting summary judgment to the Council on American Islamic Relations­ – Washington Chapter (CAIR-WA), CAIR-WA and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) are making public hundreds of pages of emails regarding the detention of Iranians at the Blaine, WA Port of Entry in early January 2020. NWIRP is representing CAIR-WA in the case, which seeks the release of documents under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted CAIR-WA summary judgment, requiring Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to search the emails of high-level CBP officials for materials regarding an unlawful directive mandating the detention of Iranians, including lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens of Iranian heritage, in early January 2020. Significantly, the Court ordered CBP to include in its search the email of then-Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan.

The Court also required CBP to provide to the Court unredacted copies of additional documents that CBP refused to release, in order to determine whether they must also be released to the public. Those documents include the previously-leaked directive ordering the detention of all Iranians entering at the border, regardless of their lawful status. In doing so, the Court observed that the “release of the directive that mandated the detention of individuals based on national origin may be appropriate” given that exemptions to FOIA “should not shield the disclosure [of] records of illegal activity.” Notably, as the Court observed in its decision, CBP has not contested that its actions in ordering the detention of Iranians at the border was unlawful.

The newly released emails unequivocally demonstrate that CBP detained United States citizens, lawful permanents residents, and others based solely on their national origin for many hours at the Blaine Port of Entry. Critically, the records show that even the media’s largest estimates of the number of these detentions were an undercount. One email from Adele Fasano, the Seattle Field Office Director for CBP, to Randy Howe, CBP’s Executive Director of Field Operations, shows that on January 3-4, 2020, the Seattle Field Office referred over 250 people to secondary inspection based solely on those individuals’ national origin. Notably, these unlawful detentions included over 80 U.S. citizens. Another email shows that CBP detained many of these individuals for several hours, including over 9 hours in some cases. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, CBP detained individuals for 3-4 hours or more—solely based on these individuals’ national origin.

Today’s publication also shows an attempt by high-level CBP officials to mislead the public. Released emails demonstrate that after reporters began to inquire about the detention of Iranians at the Blaine Port of Entry, then-Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and other high-level officials signed off on a public statement claiming that “[r]eports that CBP officers are detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry in the U.S. solely because of their country of origin are false.” The same statement that Mark Morgan authorized went on to claim that “[r]eports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

However, the released records make clear that, despite the Seattle Field Office having issued precisely such a directive, and despite the detentions of hundreds of individuals based on national origin, CBP leaders still authorized this statement. In fact, at several points, the emails make clear the Seattle Field Office ordered agents to “refer all encounters with individuals from areas of national concern for additional inspection and vetting.” Similarly, they show that CBP officials had to subsequently instruct the Seattle Field Office to stop discriminating based on national origin.

CAIR-WA and NWIRP are now awaiting a decision from the Court on the additional documents that the Court ordered CBP to provide to it for review. The organizations will issue a subsequent press release once the Court renders its decision to provide public access to any additional documents that Court orders released.

“The Constitution makes clear that discrimination based on national origin like this is unlawful. Yet, the records plainly demonstrate that CBP officials detained hundreds of people, including scores of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents solely because of where they were born,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “Moreover, the records make clear that authorities then lied about it. We urge Congress and the incoming Biden administration to hold CBP officials accountable for violating the civil rights of Iranian-Americans, among others.”

“We applaud Judge Martinez’ ruling on the matter,” said Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR-WA Executive Director. “There is no basis for detaining individuals due to their national origin. Not only were the CBP’s actions illegal, but they explicitly colluded to cover it up and keep their actions from the American people. It is our duty as civil rights activists to ensure that CBP is held accountable for these flagrant violations to ensure our communities are protected.”

Link to the Court’s decision

Link to the FOIA production