News Releases

Senators: It is imperative that CBP does not discriminate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a group of their Democratic colleagues in sending a letter demanding answers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in light of recent reports that CBP officers recently detained travelers, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, at U.S. ports of entry or airports based solely or predominately on their Iranian national origin.

“It 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,” the senators wrote. “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.”

Last week, amid reports that Americans of Iranian descent were detained for secondary screening at the Peach Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington, Senators Murray and Cantwell joined fellow Washington lawmakers to obtain more information from the Department of Homeland Security about why these Americans were held for secondary screenings, in some cases for up to 12 hours, before they could go.

Senator Murray has long fought to protect people and families in Washington state from abuses by the federal government at our borders, including introducing legislation to preserve Washingtonians’ privacy and civil liberties by limiting Border Patrol’s ‘warrantless border zone’ for vehicle stops and searches from 100 to 25 miles, and from 25 to 10 miles for access to private property. Additionally, last August Senator Murray requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a comprehensive review of the Border Patrol’s use of interior immigration checkpoints as part of their border security mission, to help ensure that Washingtonians’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures are being respected.

Senator Cantwell has been outspoken on this issue throughout her time in office. She recently raised these concerns directly with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and questioned former CBP Commissioners Kevin McAleenan and Richard Kerlikowske at their confirmation hearings about racial and religious profiling at CBP and the need to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Cantwell also demanded answers from then-Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano about continuing abuses by U.S. Border Patrol.

In addition to Murray and Cantwell, today’s letter to CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan was also signed by U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), 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. 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.
    1. 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?
  1. 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? 
    1. a.       If so, who issued the directive, memo, teleconference, or guidance and when?  How was the directive or guidance delivered?
    2. 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?
    3. c.       How does CBP, on a headquarter level, monitor port and/or field directors’ compliance with overall CBP policy?
  1. 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.
    1. a.       How many of them were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents?
    2. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. 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? 
    1. a.       Has CBP consulted with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) at DHS regarding the incidents described in these reports?
    2. b.       Will CBP commit to cooperating with any CRCL investigation into this matter?
  1. 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,

###