BLAINE, Wash. -- The Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says it's looking into claims that dozens of Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine Saturday night.
CAIR claims roughly 60 people of all ages were detained and questioned for hours, with many of them being refused entry to the US because there wasn't a place to detain them. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has flatly denied those claims and says there was added security at points of entry nationwide because of threats from Iran.
"We've heard that a lot of the questions being asked have to do with the individuals' Iranian backgrounds. Many of these individuals, you have to realize, were born in America," CAIR Washington Executive Director Masih Fouladi said. "They're also asking questions about family members. They're asking to take down their contact information of various family members. Those are things that U.S. citizens do not need to provide."
CBP issued the following statement in response to the allegations:
“Social media posts that C.B.P. is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false."
Several people who said they were detained in Washington state shared their stories with The New York Times.
Gov. Jay Inslee says it's "simply not credible" for CBP to deny the reports.
"There are multiple firsthand accounts of CBP agents seizing people’s passports while they waited for up to 12 hours for re-entry into the United States. By all accounts, this is detention, regardless of whether the waiting area has bars on the windows. And it is in line with this administration’s never-ending vilification of our immigrant populations," Inslee said.
The conflicting reports over whether Iranian-Americans are being detained come as tensions between both countries are heightened after a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a revered and powerful figure who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Quds Force and led Iran's overseas operations.
Tehran's streets were packed with black-clad mourners Monday as a sea of people turned out to pay their respects to Soleimani.
Many of those on the streets of the Iranian capital were visibly upset and angry; others shouted "down with the USA" and "death to the USA." Iranian state television said millions attended, although this was yet to be verified.
Soleimani has been hailed a martyr and a hero inside Iran, especially due to his work in the fight against ISIS. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's ultimate political and religious authority, was photographed praying over Soleimani's body during the funeral ceremony alongside President Hassan Rouhani.
The US, however, has long viewed Soleimani as a terrorist and adversary. Washington claims he is responsible for aiding and abetting attacks by Iran's Shia allies against American troops, many of whom were killed during the bloodiest days of the Iraq War and in sectarian conflicts throughout the Middle East.
President Donald Trump said the decision to kill Soleimani was based on intelligence that he had been involved in planning an "imminent attack" that put American lives at risk.
Washington had already carried out a series of airstrikes in Iraq targeting Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group the US held responsible for a series of rocket attacks on American facilities that killed a US contractor.
Trump said Soleimani was killed "to stop a war," but the action marks a significant escalation that has seen both sides inching dangerously close to the brink of conflict.
Iran has vowed revenge and threatened both the US and Israel. Maj. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, the top military adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader, told CNN that Tehran would retaliate by targeting military sites. The US operates about 800 military bases and logistical facilities outside its sovereign territory.
And Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the country will no longer limit itself to the nuclear restrictions set forth by the international nuclear deal reached in 2015 between Iran and a handful of other countries. The Trump administration abandoned the deal in 2018.
Trump has responded to Iran's talk of vengeance by threatening to carry out a series of attack a number of Iranian targets, including cultural sites -- a potential war crime.
"Iranian proxy forces in Iraq have thought that they could act with impunity, and that if they acted we wouldn't take strikes against Iran proper," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN when asked about Trump's statement. "We've made clear for months to the Iranian regime that that wouldn't be the case, that we were going to hold responsible the actors, the leaders who took these actions and who orchestrated these actions."
However, the Trump administration's domestic and foreign critics accused the President and his advisers of failing to think through the cost of killing Soleimani.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her fellow Democrats that the decision was "provocative and disproportionate" and argued that it endangered US personnel in the region.
The future of US troops in Iraq
Gulf Arab states and European leaders have called for restraint.
In a joint statement Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is "an urgent need for de-escalation" concerning rising tensions with Iran.
Iraq's Parliament voted nearly unanimously to force the government to work toward the removal of US and other foreign troops inside the country, a clear rebuke to Washington over the strike that killed Soleimani.
"Iraqi priorities and the US are increasingly at odds," caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said during his address to parliament.
He said a US troop withdrawal was the only way to "protect all those on Iraqi soil," especially American forces that require protection from the Iraqis.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shia cleric and fierce critic of the US, said the response by Iraq's parliament was weak "in comparison to American violations of Iraqi sovereignty."
Meanwhile, Trump said any move to expel US troops from the country would be met with "sanctions like they've never seen before ever."
"It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame," Trump said.