JA Civil Rights Groups Concerned by Reports of Increased Screening Procedures for Iranian Americans

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WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League issued the following statement on Jan. 6.

“This past weekend, reports of increased screening of Iranian Americans returning to the United States from Canada arose late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Although individuals were not officially detained or taken into custody according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it is clear that many U.S. citizens of Iranian descent were subjected to additional screening that non-Iranian citizens were not.

“JACL denounces this expansion of screening and further questioning based solely on Iranian heritage. Our country should have learned its lesson when it targeted Japanese Americans because of our ancestry. We must not repeat the mistake of casting suspicion on American citizens simply because of their family’s country of origin. Racist discrimination should not be institutionalized under the guise of national security interests.

“CBP seems to be seeking cover by claiming to have not detained or ordered for the detention of any individual, but has made no comment in regards to the extended questioning and screening procedures. We call upon CBP to immediately halt any discriminatory policies singling out travelers solely for their Iranian heritage.

“If CBP did not issue orders for additional screening, it must conduct an immediate investigation as to why additional screenings were required for Iranian Americans crossing the border.”

Tsuru for Solidarity also issued a statement:

“Tsuru for Solidarity is alarmed by reports that Iranian Americans have been singled out to be held for hours and then intrusively questioned by border agents. Japanese Americans remember how wartime hysteria and racism led to surveillance, roundups of Japanese American community leaders, race-based curfews, and then to the wholesale roundup and incarceration of our entire community.

“War is no justification for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin. But it is a familiar excuse. Indeed, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied Fred Korematsu’s constitutional challenge in 1944, the court relied on government assertions to claim that references to racial prejudice ‘merely confuse the issue’ and insisted that the wrongs Korematsu suffered were not ‘because of hostility to him or his race’ but rather ‘because we are at war with the Japanese Empire.’

“Decades later, government documents conclusively established that the government’s self-serving assertions were false and that racial prejudice had in fact been the driving force behind the wartime roundup and incarceration.

“Especially when we are living under the same presidential administration that created the Muslim ban, with white nationalists like Stephen Miller directing White House policy, we cannot be complacent about government efforts to justify discriminatory acts as legitimate security measures. The weekend’s events have put us on a dangerous path.”

Reports of mistreatment of Iranian Americans come in the wake of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and the Iranian government’s vow that it will seek revenge against U.S. citizens and interests.

The Iranian hostage crisis (1979-81), during which 52 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days, led to hate crimes against people of Iranian background as well as Arab Americans and others who were mistaken for Iranians.

 

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