A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer says the “extreme vetting” of dozens of people with Iranian backgrounds attempting to cross the border into Washington state earlier this month was a local initiative directed by the officer’s managers in Blaine, Wash.
The whistleblower came forward to Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders, who has revealed the allegations while protecting the officer’s identity over fears of retribution.
Speaking to both Global News and CKNW Thursday, Saunders said he received a “lengthy email” detailing what officers throughout the Blaine sector were told by their local managers overseeing the ports of entry.
“Basically [the direction was] there was to be a roundup or detention of any individual entering the United States through Peace Arch if they were born in Iran,” he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained at length at the Peace Arch Border between Jan. 3 and 5.
Many of those held were coming back to the U.S. from an Iranian pop concert in Vancouver that weekend.
Some told Global News they spent up to eight hours at the crossing, while others have described waits as long as 12 hours. All said they were subjected to lengthy interviews from border agents after it was discovered they had been born in Iran, despite having U.S. or Canadian citizenship.
Saunders says the operation was only suspended around 1 p.m. on Jan. 5 after the detentions began receiving media coverage on both sides of the border.
“When the initiative went out to suspend the operation, the offers were told not to go to the media, not to speak to the media, and especially not admit that the operation had been occurring,” he said.
“I think this officer saw what was happening and realized it was probably illegal what the Americans were doing to these Iranian-born applicants for admission.”
Saunders said the officer’s account matched what the lawyer saw when he visited the Peace Arch point of entry on Jan. 5 and met with several Iranian people still being held.
While initial reports said the detentions were only taking place at the Peace Arch crossing, Saunders said he’s heard from other border officers that the directive also covered the rest of the ports of entry in the Blaine sector, including Bellingham and Sumas, Wash.
“I’ve never seen the Americans target a specific group of travellers,” he said. “It’s no different than if they were to limit every African-American from entering the United States.
“The officer said to me, ‘were these stops constitutional?’ And he said, ‘probably not.’ He thinks these stops were unlawful, and I agree with him.”
Detained travellers told Global News that officers at Peace Arch explained the long waits and extended interviews as part of a “new process,” prompting questions of whether a national directive was issued by CBP or the Department of Homeland Security.
The CBP at the time denied such an order was issued based on travellers’ country of origin, but said ports were “operating with an enhanced security posture” due to tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The detentions began taking place less than 24 hours after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The CBP referred to those earlier statements when reached for comment on the whistleblower’s allegations Thursday.
The stories of “extreme vetting” received swift condemnation from local politicians, including members of Congress and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who said CBP’s denials were ‘simply not credible” after so many travellers came forward.
Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Washington state senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have led requests for additional information on the detentions from the Trump administration, including CBP and the Department of Homeland Security.
While Saunders is hopeful that information will be brought to light in the wake of the whistleblower’s allegations, he said he doesn’t have much faith.
“I don’t think U.S. politicians realize the significance of what happened,” he said.
“They’ve been assured by CBP that this didn’t happen, so they’ve obviously taken them at face value. But it’s harder now for them to deny what happened and to not take some kind of action so it never happens again.
“There needs to be accountability. Someone needs to be accountable for putting the frontline officers in this position. It was a complete waste of time.”
Saunders wouldn’t rule out a possible class-action lawsuit against the Blaine CBP sector, adding many of his own clients are afraid to come forward with their own stories and identify themselves.
But he said he will continue to seek justice for those people who were held and questioned for hours, many with children in tow.
“I hope I never see anything like this in my career ever again,” he said.
Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News
Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.
Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.
Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.
The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.
“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.
Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.
“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”
LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS
Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.
Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.
The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.
Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.
The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.
Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.
Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.
Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.
Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.
IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.
The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.
Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.
“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.
SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES
Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles
“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.
He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.
“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.
NO DEBT RELIEF
CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.
On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”
Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.
Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.
Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.
“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”
After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.
Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries
A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.
Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.
It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.
Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.
Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog
The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.
It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.
Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.
Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.
Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.
“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.
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