After weeks of denying reports that U.S. Customs Border and Protection officers had singled out Iranian-Americans at the Peace Arch border last month, the head of the organization admitted Tuesday that the agency was doing exactly that.
In a media briefing in Washington, D.C., acting commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters that in one instance, leadership got “a little overzealous” and the action was “not in line with our direction.”
“We corrected that right away,” he said in the briefing.
On Jan. 4-5, dozens of Americans and Canadians of Iranian background were reportedly detained at Peace Arch border for up to 16 hours while heading into the U.S. The detention came shortly after the Iranian government pledged retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Following media attention about the detention, followed by an apparent leaked memo from the CBP Seattle Field Office that explicitly directed front-line officers to vet people born between 1961-2001 with links to Iran, CBP repeatedly said the agency doesn’t target people based on ethnicity.
“Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false. Reports that the (Department of Homeland Security/CBP) has issued a related directive are also false,” CBP tweeted.
Morgan said there was not a national directive to single out individuals connected to Iran, however the agency developed “enhanced targeting rules” in light of the threat from Iran.
“The totality of circumstances, yes, we enhanced our posture. In that specific office, a decision was made to take those individuals out of primary and do that discussion separately from primary. That was not in line with our direction,” Morgan said.