(San Francisco) – United States border agencies’ reported stops of US citizens of Iranian descent at the border reflect a longstanding failure to curb discriminatory enforcement actions, Human Rights Watch said today.
On January 4 and 5, 2020, US border authorities held dozens of travelers of Iranian descent for up to 10 hours to undergo extra scrutiny at a border station in Blaine, Washington, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations and media reports. Several US citizens alleged that they were singled out for such “secondary inspection” solely because of their Iranian roots.
“Federal law enforcement policy does not allow officers to consider factors like national origin in making routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions, such as traffic stops,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But there is a gaping loophole in the policy, which allows officers at the border to consider factors, such as national origin, for these same kinds of decisions, including for US citizens.”
On January 4, the Department of Homeland Security updated its National Terrorism Advisory System to warn of increased risks from “Homegrown Violent Extremists” from Iran in the wake of increased US tensions with the country. The former US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told the New York Times that agents would put an added emphasis on a traveler’s country of origin when that nation is identified as a security threat.
Human Rights Watch has previously urged the US government to ensure its border enforcement policies do not result in discriminatory actions. This would include eliminating the border loophole that allows for discriminatory policing, and requiring agents to document their reasons for a stop, search, or interrogation.
“When US citizens are targeted because of their national origin, race, religion, or ethnicity, it’s deeply damaging to those singled out, their families, and to the principle of equal protection of law,” Long said. “The government should investigate the recent stops and change the underlying policy that allows such treatment of its citizens.”