More than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans have been detained at length and questioned at the US border with Canada, according to advocacy groups, as the crisis over the killing of Qassem Soleimani escalates.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported those who were detained had their passports confiscated and were questioned about their political views and allegiances.
“These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens,” Masih Fouladi, the executive director of CAIR-Washington, said in a statement.
The advocacy group has also claimed a source at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said a national order has been issued to report and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed “potentially suspicious”, regardless of their citizenship status.
CBP has denied any such directive is in place and insisted reports of Iranian-Americans being detained on social media were false.
“Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the US because of their country of origin are false,” CBP wrote on Twitter.
“Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”
However, the National Iranian American Council also said it had spoken to Iranian-Americans who were detained for hours at borders and airports over the weekend and asked about their views on Iran.
The allegations come amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran after top Iranian general Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike order by Donald Trump last week.
His death marks a major escalation in tensions and has been followed by threats of further attacks by both countries.
On Sunday, Iran announced it would no longer respect restrictions on enrichment of uranium introduced under the 2015 international nuclear agreement.
Meanwhile, Iraqi MPs passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops, including about 5,000 US soldiers, to leave its country in response to the attack.
Mr Trump has threatened severe sanctions and attacks on cultural sites if Iran retaliates against the US over the killing.
Pramila Jayapal, a Washington congresswoman, has said she is “deeply disturbed” by reports of Iranian-Americans being detained at the border, while Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, has said his office is “closely tracking” the situation.
Mr Inslee later added that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had told his office there was no order issued to detain or refuse entry to Iranian-Americans but his team was continuing to seek answers from officials.
One woman, who was allegedly detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours at the border crossing, said the majority of people who were held were American citizens.
“We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for travelling and were told ‘I’m sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys,’” the woman told CAIR.
On Saturday, DHS updated its National Terrorism Advisory System to warn that Iran could retaliate against the US through cyberattacks or attacks by “homegrown violent extremists”.
However, the department acknowledged that it had “no information indicating a specific, credible threat” at this time.
CAIR Washington has said it believes everyone who was detained has now been released but the group will continue to monitor the situation.
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