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Van Hollen Joins Carper, Feinstein, and Murray in Demanding Answers from CBP Following Reports of Delays and Enhanced Screening for Americans of Iranian Descent

January 14, 2020

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the Senate health committee, in writing a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan with questions and concerns regarding recent reports that, earlier this month, CBP officers detained travelers, including American citizens, at U.S. ports of entry or airports based solely or predominately on their Iranian national origin. The Senators point out that CBP must follow our laws and not discriminate against individuals based upon any protected characteristics and that U.S. citizens and other travelers posing no risk to the homeland should not be subjected to unnecessary delay or unjustified intrusions as they transit across our border.

“We write to express our concern and request information regarding Customs and Border Protection (CBP) practices relating to secondary inspections of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and other travelers at ports of entry,”the Senators wrote.

The Senators continued,“As you are aware, CBP has the crucial responsibility of facilitating legitimate trade and travel through our ports of entry. It is imperative that CBP follows our laws and does not discriminate based upon protected characteristics, as prolonged detainment of travelers based on discriminatory practices is a clear violation of CBP guidance. It is also vital that U.S. citizens and other travelers posing no risk to the homeland are not subject to unnecessary delay or unjustified intrusions as they transit across our border.”

Joining Senators Carper, Feinstein and Murray in sending the letter were Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

A copy of the letter can be found here, and the full text of the letter is below.

January 14, 2020

Mark A. Morgan

Acting Commissioner

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Acting Commissioner Morgan,

We write to express our concern and request information regarding Customs and Border Protection (CBP) practices relating to secondary inspections of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and other travelers at ports of entry.

On January 4, 2020, and continuing over the weekend, it appears that CBP officers detained people based solely or predominately on their Iranian national origin. Those subjected to this prolonged inspection included U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, who were asked, among other things, about their political views, allegiances, social media profiles, family relationships, and military service.

As you are aware, CBP has the crucial responsibility of facilitating legitimate trade and travel through our ports of entry. It is imperative that CBP follows our laws and does not discriminate based upon protected characteristics, as prolonged detainment of travelers based on discriminatory practices is a clear violation of CBP guidance. It is also vital that U.S. citizens and other travelers posing no risk to the homeland are not subject to unnecessary delay or unjustified intrusions as they transit across our border.

Given these concerns, we ask CBP for answers regarding policies that target certain U.S. citizens and other travelers arriving at ports of entry. We ask that you provide this information as soon as possible, but no later than January 20, 2020.

1. Provide us with any and all directives, instructions, policies, memos or any guidance, either verbal or written, relating to additional scrutiny, enhanced screening, vigilance, and/or non-routine or secondary inspections at ports of entry and airports issued in response to international events that have taken place since December 27, 2019.

    a. If no directives were issued, what level of discretion do CBP port directors have for operationalizing CBP orders for enhanced screening, additional scrutiny, or vigilance at ports of entry?

2. Have any agencies or personnel within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including CBP port directors, issued or received any directives, instructions, guidance, or any policies or memos, either in writing or by any other means, to engage in prolonged detainment or enhanced screening of individuals of Iranian heritage entering the United States?

    a. If so, who issued the directive, memo, teleconference, or guidance and when? How was the directive or guidance delivered?

    b. What policies, if any, exist to ensure that port directors and/or field leadership alert CBP leadership of directives issued at a local level?

    c. How does CBP, on a headquarter level, monitor port and/or field directors’ compliance with overall CBP policy?

3. Please list any and all instances in which CBP referred Iranians and Iranian-Americans for non-routine or secondary inspection, detention and/or questioning at the port of entry at the Peace Arch Border Crossing over the weekend of January 4, 2020. Please include the percentage of Iranians and Iranian-Americans subject to non-routine or secondary screening as compared to the total number of applications for admission into the United States at Peace Arch Border Crossing on January 4, 2020, and January 5, 2020.

    a. How many of them were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents?

    b. How many minors were detained, questioned or placed into non-routine or secondary screening at Peace Arch Border Crossing over the weekend of January 4, 2020? Were they allowed to remain with their parents/guardians at the port of entry?

4. Have CBP officers at ports of entry or U.S. airports questioned U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents of Iranian heritage, or those perceived to have Iranian heritage, about their political views or the current situation with Iran?

5. What measures, if any, has CBP put in place to prevent leadership at ports of entry from either directly or indirectly telling or encouraging frontline CBP officers to engage in profiling of U.S. citizens based on national origin?

    a. Has CBP consulted with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) at DHS regarding the incidents described in these reports?

    b. Will CBP commit to cooperating with any CRCL investigation into this matter?

6. CBP stated that holiday-related staffing shortages contributed to the extensive delays travelers faced over the weekend of January 4, 2020. How many CBP employees were staffing the Peace Arch Border Crossing over the weekend of January 4, 2020, and how many are there on any other given day?

Sincerely,

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All Information was gathered from publicly available US Government releases. "§105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise. ( Pub. L. 94–553, title I, §101, Oct. 19, 1976, 90 Stat. 2546 .)" http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:17%20section:105%20edition:prelim)