SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Civil rights activists and Iranian Americans in the Bay Area are on alert after reports that American citizens and residents of Iranian descent were detained by U.S. border agents in Washington state last weekend. Some see the extra scrutiny on Iranian Americans and Iranian residents in the U.S. as an unfair targeting of the community, following last Friday's U.S. drone attack that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
"We got complaints of several dozen people who were stopped at the U.S.-Canada border on their way back in to Washington state," said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area's chapter of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She says CAIR is working with the families who spoke out at a news conference Monday with a member of Congress.
"I am here today because of my kids. They shouldn't experience such things. They are U.S. citizens and this is not okay," said Negah Hekmati, a U.S. resident who says she was detained at the border with her family.
"This appears to be another attempt to target and isolate a community that is very much is part of our fabric," said Democratic Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.
"This was not a situation where people were, didn't have their documentation, they couldn't verify their identity or citizenship. They had U.S. passports literally on hand," said Jorge Barón, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
CAIR says Iranian Americans and residents should know their rights. While border agents have the right to search all property brought in by foreigners, residents and citizens, there are steps that people can take, Billoo says, such as asking to speak with a supervisor or asking “am I free to leave” if there is any question about whether a person is being officially detained.
"These stops lasted 6-12 hours, which is completely unacceptable," said Billoo, "Though customs and border agents may attempt to question them about their religion, their politics, their ethnicity, they are under no obligation to answer those questions.”
U.S. border patrol said they've added security at entry points but denied any detentions took place.
San Francisco State University Professor Mahmood Monshipouri, is chair of the International Relations department, an Iranian American who's lived in the U.S. more than 40 years and fears for regular people in both countries.
"Because of what has happened this act of assassination has triggered nationalistic sentiment," said Monshipouri, "It creates a very toxic feeling of nationalism on either side and this is very counterproductive."
He worries President Trump's statement that Iran's cultural sites could be targeted will drive more Iranians to support the regime.
"Iranians have a tremendous attachments to these cultural centers and there are more than 10,000 cultural centers," said Monshipouri.
His hope is for Iranian Americans and all citizens to call for accountability in Washington DC.
"The only thing we can hope is put the pressure on our representatives, to make sure people who are making the decisions are accountable to the public," said Monshipouri.