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Iranian-Americans delayed at border, fuelling fears of profiling

Iranians delayed at border

North American residents of Iranian descent and their advocates were sounding the racial-profiling alarm Monday after scores of them were subjected to intensive questioning and long delays while trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border over the weekend.

Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer whose practice in Blaine, Wash., specializes in cross-border issues, said several of his clients — some living in Canada, all of Persian descent — were made to wait for upwards of five hours and answer unusually intrusive questions Saturday before being allowed into the U.S.

They include an Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen and a Canadian resident who holds a green card in order to work south of the border, Saunders said in an interview.

"'The room was full of Persians — people like me,'" Saunders quoted one of his clients as telling him. "I said, 'What do you mean, people like me?' She goes, 'Iranians. We're all talking and we're all being asked the same questions.'"

At one point, she asked to be allowed to leave and return to Canada, where she had been visiting family members in Vancouver. She was told she was not allowed to leave the building, he said.

"She goes to me, 'I'm an American. What was the point of me naturalizing and becoming an American? Do I have no rights here?'"

Posts on social media reported delays that lasted as long as eight to 10 hours.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who represents a district in Washington state, said she believes the delays were fallout from last week's seismic U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, which killed Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior Iranian military leader whose death triggered vows of retaliation, an outpouring of Middle East fury and renewed fears of deadly conflict involving U.S. troops.

Jayapal hosted a news conference in Seattle with Negah Hekmati, a Seattle-area interior designer and mother of two, who was held up at the border for five hours on Saturday on her way home from a family holiday in Canada.

Hekmati, 38, a regular visitor to Canada who usually cruises past the border kiosk with the help of her Nexus card, described spending five hours at the Peace Arch crossing, her children fearing all the while that they might be taken to jail.

"My daughter was saying, 'Please don't speak Farsi. If you don't speak Farsi maybe they won't take you,'" Hekmati said. She said she decided to speak out for the sake of her kids, who she fears could face backlash at school if the U.S. goes to war with Iran.

"For me as an immigrant, I'm used to it, unfortunately, but for my kids it shouldn't be OK and I'm afraid that's the slippery slope," she said. "My kids should be proud of their ancestors, their heritage."



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