VANCOUVER — Sam Sadr’s first trip to the United States from his home in North Vancouver was supposed to be a relaxing getaway but he says his birth in Iran made him a target at the border, where he was detained for over eight hours with his family.
Sadr, 39, said U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials questioned him about everything from his sister’s and brother’s birth dates to where he’d gone to school. They also asked whether anyone in his family had a role in any army, navy or military service or Iran’s political affairs.
“I’m a tourist, not a terrorist. I’m not a member of anything,” he said in an interview, adding he left Tehran at age seven and grew up in Japan before moving to Canada about 18 years ago.
“I have a Canadian passport, but it says I’m born in Iran.”
That was enough for border personnel to question him on Saturday, he said, as tensions rose between the United States and Iran following the recent death of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad, triggering vows of retaliation.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials have denied questioning Iranian-Canadian and Iranian-American travellers returning from Canada during a secondary screening process at the border. The agency does acknowledge operating under an “enhanced posture” as a result of the current threat environment.
Officials at the Peace Arch border crossing attributed the long delays to staff shortages.
Sadr said he twice asked why it was necessary for him and his family to be detained for so long.
“I just asked, ‘Can I get my passport and go home, back to Vancouver?’ They said, ‘No, we have to get the order from head office.’ “
By the time Sadr and his family were allowed to leave, it was too late to go to Seattle, he said.
Instead, they crossed into Washington for two hours, only to find a place to eat after not being offered any food during their 8 1/2 hours at the border, he said.
“This is the first time I tried to step into the U.S., so I’m not happy with this,” he said.
Sadr said he won’t return to the U.S. until there’s a resolution of the political turmoil between the U. S. and Iran.
“I wish peace will come back so we can go without any discrimination,” he said.
John Mohammadi, who moved to Canada from Iran about 20 years ago, said members of the Iranian-Canadian community want to be treated fairly after political unrest in their homeland forced them to move elsewhere.
“Right now, people there all want to move out. They’re scared because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding he wants U.S. border personnel to stop questioning Iranians unnecessarily over political skirmishes that have nothing to do with them.
Mohammadi, who also lives in North Vancouver, said he will not travel to the U.S. for now, knowing he may be delayed for hours.
“I’m sure so many people are not going to go to the border if they’re going to keep them there for that long,” he said.
American immigration lawyer Len Saunders said Monday that several of his clients, including some from Canada and 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.
Posts on social media reported delays that lasted eight to 10 hours.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2020.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press