National Security

CBP ordered special vetting for travelers with ties to Iran: report

An internal memo sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in Seattle reportedly ordered special vetting for Iranian travelers with ties to the Middle East.

The one-page memo — first obtained and published by The Northern Light, a local newspaper in Blaine, Wash. — directed CBP officers to perform special vetting processes on individuals “born after 1961 and born before 2001” who are Iranian or Lebanese citizens or “any other nationality that has traveled to Iran or Lebanon.”

The CBP officers who reportedly received the memo are based at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, where there have previously been reports of Iranian Americans being held for questioning.

The memo outlines “secondary procedures” for people who meet a certain threshold of the vetting criteria.

“Even if they are not of SHIA faith, anyone can state they are Baha’i, please question further to determine this is the case,” the memo reads. “When in doubt send for high side checks.”

The undated memo was titled: “Iranian Supreme Leader Vows Forceful Revenge after U.S. Kills Maj. General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad – Threat Alert High.”

On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Five days later, Iran attacked military bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces.

When reached for comment Thursday, CBP did not confirm the contents of the memo but instead said said “officers may refer for additional screening individuals who present a known risk or individuals about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk.” 

CBP said referrals are based on factors such as the individual’s “activities, associations and travel patterns.”

“CBP has understood Iran and its proxies to be a very capable adversary for some time,” the agency added. “Our officers are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against CBP in December over its Tactical Terrorism Response, which the ACLU argued was discriminatory against U.S. citizens and travelers from the Middle East.

“If this report is true, CBP has been caught in a lie,” Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday. “It appears the agency did, in fact, wrongly direct officers to target and detain travelers based on national origin, and interrogate them about their religion and beliefs. There is simply no justification for these CBP practices against travelers who present no security concern.”

“The agency should immediately withdraw this directive, if genuine, and Congress should investigate and prevent these abuses,” he added.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the Trump administration Thursday, asking them to disclose any CBP directives or other guidance regarding the screening of people with Iranian heritage within two weeks.

Tags Pramila Jayapal

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