Updates on Iranian-Americans Detained at Canadian Border and on the Status of Asylum Seekers Entering the U.S. from Mexico

Published on: Jan 07, 2020, Last Edited: Jan 07, 2020 | Tags: USA Immigration, Border Security

Americans of Iranian origin temporarily detained at the border with Canada

Iranian-American families are anxious for the future amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. A Muslim rights group claims that over 60 U.S. citizens of Iranian origin have undergone questioning and delays when reentering the United States at the border in Blaine, Washington State.

CAIR, the Council for American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that because of a lack of capacity on the part of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to detain them, even greater numbers of Iranians were simply refused entry as they attempted to return home after attending a music festival in Vancouver. Many had their passports removed and were subject to questioning regarding their political allegiances and opinions.

CAIR sees these reports as potentially constituting illegal detentions of U.S. citizens. One detainee, a 24-year-old medical student, was held with her family and questioned for over 10 hours. The group is currently attempting to verify claims of a wider directive to detain Iranian- Americans at all ports of entry so that they can offer up to date travel advice to members of their community.

CAIR claimed that border officers had been directed to detain and report anyone of Iranian origin who is seen as being potentially a threat or “suspicious”, whether they were a citizen or not. A spokesperson for CBP, Michael Friel, disputed the report and said that the claim that DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and CBP had issued a nationwide directive was untrue.

Federal security agencies have been advising residents of major cities in the U.S. to be vigilant following the killing of Iran’s most senior military leader and officers said that security at sensitive locations was being stepped up. Acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wold, stated that the department was prepared to respond to security threats although none had been discovered as yet.

Asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait for hearings

The Remain in Mexico program, a key U.S. immigration policy which critics claim puts migrants at risk by sending them back to dangerous towns on the border, is being expanded further. Authorities have begun returning tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the town of Nogales, which straddles the border between Arizona in the U.S. and Sonora state in Mexico, while they wait for their court hearings that will be held in Ciudad Juárez, around 563km away.

Prior to this week, the authorities were providing transport for some refugees from Nogales in Arizona to El Paso, from where they could be returned to Ciudad Juárez. Now they will have to make their own way along the highly dangerous U.S.-Mexcian border roads

The director of the migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, said that they were prepared and that there were places for 400 people. Around 30 had arrived so far and they would take as many as there was the capacity for.

The program part of a tranche of U.S. immigration policies by the Trump administration which has virtually ended asylum in the United States. Critics claim that asylum seekers, many of whom fled their country because of violence and gang warfare, are being forced back into dangerous conditions of Mexican border towns where they are very high risk of kidnap, extortion, robbery and rape.

In December, Human Rights First released a report documenting over 600 incidents of violence against migrants returned to Mexico, including rape, kidnap and torture. This is a rise form over 300 accounts received in October and, since most attacks go unreported, the actual number may be higher.

The policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico was first introduced in San Diego in January 2018. Nogales is the first border crossing in Arizona - and the eighth of the program - via which migrants are sent back to Mexico to await their hearings.

According to Syracuse University, by November 2019, nearly 57,000 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico. Out of over 24,000 cases that have been ruled on, fewer than 1% have been given asylum or another form of relief that permits them to remain in the U.S.

The U.S. border authorities say that the program has significantly reduced the number of people attempting to cross the border illegally. In November, CBP officers detained around 33,000 migrants along the U.S.-Mexican border, compared to May, when numbers crossing the border peaked at over 144,000.

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