Asked whether he felt he was pulled aside because he was Iranian-American, he said he didn’t “want to speculate on another person’s private thoughts or motivations, but [the officer’s] first question was about the last time I had been to Iran.”
Ghazvinian, the interim director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the officers told him they had flagged him for extra scrutiny because it looked as though he had bought a one-way ticket to the U.S., when in fact he hadn’t. The female CBP officer, whom he described as “very friendly,” also asked him in the secondary screening whether he had family members in Iran and what they thought of what is going on. He told them he hadn’t talked to them about the situation.
Then she asked him what he thought of the tensions between the U.S. and Iran, to which he responded by saying he didn’t think the question was relevant. “She said, ‘We are just curious about what people think about these things,’ and I said, ‘It feels a little political,’ and then she dropped it,” he recalled.
The events, which he called “inherently a stressful experience” and “nerve-wracking,” involved a five- to 10-minute wait and around three minutes of questioning, he said.
Soon after he cleared immigration and customs, he sent out the tweet and said he was “surprised by the attention it got. … It was not my intention to paint myself as some type of victim here. I don’t feel that way.”
“To be honest, I thought it was just funny and so I just sent out what I thought was a lighthearted tweet,” he said.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said the accounts made public thus far were “very disturbing” and were stoking fear among a population already sensitive to border issues, given the Trump administration’s travel restrictions on Iranian nationals.
“The government has a legitimate interest in verifying identity, citizenship or legal status at the border, but it has no business infringing on the constitutional rights of citizens and legal permanent residents by detaining and invasively questioning them about their associations, religious or political beliefs or practices,” Shamsi said.
Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, both Seattle-area Democrats, tweeted Sunday that they were trying to gather more information on the detentions at the border with British Columbia.
“Let me be clear: Instituting xenophobic, shameful and unconstitutional policies that discriminate against innocent people, trample over basic civil rights, and put fear in the hearts of millions do not make us safer,” Jayapal said in a statement.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat whose district includes Blaine, said she was also investigating the reports.
Parmida Esmaeilpour, a director with the Civic Association of Iranian Canadians in Vancouver, said concerns related to crossing the U.S. border had been building in her community for several days.