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NWIRP and CAIR-WA File Lawsuit Challenging Customs and Border Protection’s Refusal to Provide Directive Targeting Iranian-Americans

For Immediate Release
February 12, 2020

Media contacts

Matt Adams, Legal Director, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
(206) 957-8611;

Jessica Schreindl, Media Manager, Council on American-Islamic Relations – Washington Chapter
(208) 290-0500;


Seattle, WA – The Council on American-Islamic Relations – Washington Chapter (CAIR-WA), filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington today, challenging the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) refusal to reveal the directive issued to CBP officers to detain and interrogate Iranian-Americans, among others, who were returning to the United States in early January. CBP has repeatedly denied that they issued any such directive. In light of CBP’s denials, on January 8, 2020, CAIR-WA filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking the agency to produce any directives or instructions provided to CBP officers regarding the detention and interrogation of individuals of Iranian heritage, as well as any responses from CBP headquarters regarding the operation. Because CBP has failed to respond pursuant to FOIA, today CAIR-WA filed this lawsuit, seeking to ensure that CBP remains accountable for taking such actions. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) is representing CAIR-WA in filing this lawsuit.

On January 4, 2020, dozens of persons of Iranian heritage, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, returned to the Unites States after visiting British Columbia. But rather than allowing them to return, CBP officers at the Blaine Port of Entry in Blaine, Washington, detained these individuals based on their Iranian heritage for several hours, and in some cases, through most of the night of January 4 and into the morning hours of January 5, 2020. CBP officials repeatedly denied that they were detaining Iranian-Americans and denied that orders had been given to target such individuals for additional questioning. According to a statement issued by CBP’s press secretary on January 5, 2020, “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 DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

However, dozens of individuals reported their detention at the Blaine Port of Entry, discrediting CBP’s denials that individuals of Iranian heritage were detained. Most recently, media outlets have also reported the existence a leaked memorandum issued by CBP’s Seattle Field Office, which directed officers at the border to detain and question individuals based solely on their place of birth.

Under FOIA, CBP had twenty days to respond to CAIR-WA’s request. Despite the statutory obligation, CBP has not yet provided a response, much less provided a copy of the directive that CBP has refused to acknowledge. This lawsuit asks the Court to order CBP to immediately provide all documents and records relating to the detention and interrogation that occurred, targeting persons of Iranian heritage (as well as those form Libya and Palestine).

“There should be absolutely no tolerance for CBP leaders who direct officers to detain and interrogate U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents based solely on their national origin,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “The Freedom of Information Act is critical to ensure accountability for government officials, by ensuring that the public has access to government records, so we can honestly discuss whether they are complying with the law.”

“As the largest Muslim civil rights organization in Washington State, we will speak out against injustice wherever we see it,” said Masih Fouladi, Executive Director of CAIR-WA. “This lawsuit is the first step in demanding transparency and accountability from CBP after they detained American citizens at the border for up to 12 hours.”

The complaint can be viewed here.