It hasn’t only been Iranian Americans returning home from a Vancouver, Canada, concert who have been detained and harassed by border agents. VICE Motherboard reports that an active-duty U.S. soldier who was traveling as part of their official duty was detained by Customs and Border Protection last month, during which their phone was confiscated and has not yet been returned to them. “The soldier, an American citizen born in Iran, told Motherboard they believe the questioning and seizure was due to their Iranian heritage.”
The soldier, whose name has been kept confidential due to fear of retaliation for speaking out about their detention, said they were transferring at a U.S. airport when they were stopped for additional screening. “According to the soldier, the agent then asked a series of questions, and said that the service member’s phone number—which they had not provided to the agent—was ‘popping’ up on multiple different travelers that had been flying recently,” VICE Motherboard reported.
This is when the agent then asked the soldier for their phone, which the soldier handed over, along with the pin to unlock it. But after some time, the agent claimed that an IT person couldn’t access the phone due to its updated operating system and that it would now have to be sent to a lab. “I vent my frustration, and ask if I would be allowed to have my phone back to get information off of it, which he answers no to,” the soldier told VICE Motherboard. “I grab my bags and depart without making a scene as I was afraid of being detained any longer.”
The American Civil Liberties Union says “The government claims the authority to search all electronic devices at the border, no matter your legal status in the country or whether they have any reason to suspect that you’ve committed a crime. You can state that you don’t consent to such a search, but unfortunately this likely won’t prevent CBP from taking your phone.”
”Your legal status in the country may inform what you decide to do if you’re asked for a password to unlock your device,” the ACLU continues. “If you’re a citizen, you can’t be denied entry into the country if you refuse to comply with a request to unlock your device or to provide a password. But you might be detained for longer or have your device seized and not returned to you for weeks or months.”
In the soldier’s case, their phone has not yet been returned to them since their detention and questioning—and they feel they know why this happened to them. “’I was originally born in Iran,’ the soldier said, adding that they were later granted asylum in the U.S., joined the Army, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen,” VICE Motherboard reported. “Their passport says they were born in Iran; the Army member said they assume this is why they were selected for secondary screening.”
Officials have claimed there’s been no directive to detain Iranian Americans, but a document recently leaked to an immigration attorney and turned over to media could lay waste to that claim if verified. “It is becoming increasingly clear from multiple conversations with travelers and CBP staff that there was, indeed, a directive from the Seattle Field Office to target Iranian Americans for secondary screening based on their country of origin and despite the fact that they were largely American citizens, legal permanent residents and legal visa holders,” the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal told The Washington Post.