Iranian-Canadians Are Swearing off US Travel After ‘Ridiculous’ Border Detentions

Vancouverite Sam Sadr was held for eight hours in the wake of the U.S. assassination of Iran’s top military general.
protest-no-war-with-iran
No War With Iran protest in Los Angeles Saturday, January 4. Photo by David Swanson / The Canadian Press

A Canadian man who was among nearly 100 Iran-born travellers detained at the American border in Washington over the weekend is swearing off future trips to the U.S., and he isn’t alone.

Sam Sadr is a journalist and filmmaker who lives in North Vancouver. He was traveling with his family to Seattle on Saturday when he got caught up in what one immigration lawyer is calling a “ridiculous” case of mass profiling of Iran-born citizens of the U.S. and Canada.

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Sadr was held up and questioned for eight hours only one day after a U.S. drone assassination of a top Iranian general heightened military tensions in the Middle East. Some Iranian-Americans were held overnight and for more than 11 hours, according to social media reports.

“This is not right, I feel upset, I feel shock,” Sadr told VICE. “I am a tourist, not a terrorist. This is completely discrimination.”

Sam Sadr

Sam Sadr was detained for eight hours at the Peace Arch border crossing Saturday. Photo courtesy Sam Sadr

Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer based in Blaine, Washington, said he went to meet a client at the Peace Arch border crossing over the weekend and saw between 75 and 100 people with Iranian backgrounds apparently waiting indefinitely to cross into the U.S. He said border guards eventually started handing out juice boxes and snacks because the secondary screening process was so backed up.

Saunders, a Canadian and American citizen, told VICE one of his clients tried to withdraw her application to enter the U.S. and was not allowed to leave. He warned border agents are allowed to take away passports during the screening process, and legal council isn’t permitted during questioning, but that Canadians should always be allowed to turn around and return to Canada if they wish.

“I don’t think it’s legal to take one group of individuals and detain them,” Saunders said. “Everybody should be allowed to withdraw at any point.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) put out a Twitter statement Sunday denying anyone was detained or denied entry at the border between Washington and British Columbia.

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“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,” the border agency tweeted. Saunders said he had not heard any reports of Iranian-Americans or Iranian-Canadians being turned away, but that the extended wait and questioning was unusual and could be considered detention.

In secondary screening Sadr said he was questioned about his relatives, his colleagues, the schools he attended, and his political ideas. Sadr told the border agents he was educated in Japan and had no connections to Iran’s government, military or elites.

Reports of overnight border screenings have sent shockwaves through Metro Vancouver’s Iranian community, and caused many to rethink their travel plans, according to Sadr. “I told the border person you’ll never seen me here in the future,” he said.

Many of the Iranian-Americans who were detained on reentry were attending a pop concert in Vancouver Saturday night, according to the Council on Islamic-American Relations. Sadr said he knows fellow Iranians are worried about attending singer Mehran Modiri’s upcoming Vancouver performance February 2. “The people, they don’t know what’s happening, exactly,” he said.

Saunders said reports of extended and late night border screenings have died down since the weekend, and that no other U.S.-Canada crossings appear to have been affected.

But for now Saunders said he’s advising Iranian-Canadians not to take any chances.

“I don’t know what’s going on up there,” he said. “What I’m telling people is to stay away until we have further clarification.”

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