'This is not why I joined customs': Whistleblower speaks out amid spike in 5-year bans at U.S. border
VANCOUVER -- A whistleblower has written a damning email about a recent U.S. crackdown at the border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, who works on the front lines, wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being fired.
In the email sent to immigration lawyer Len Saunders, he wrote that recent immigration policy in the Seattle field office is "not in line with the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) or past government practice."
The insider explained what, he says, is behind the recent increase in the number of "expedited removals" – five-year bans from entering the United States – being issued at the border between British Columbia and Washington state.
The email comes two weeks after CTV News Vancouver learned through data obtained via a Freedom of information request that expedited removals at borders reporting to the Seattle Field office had tripled from 91 in 2018 to 309 in 2019.
The whistleblower says upper management is behind "the ER crusade" that has created a "hammer them all policy" rather than allowing travellers to withdraw their application to enter the United States. Instead of turning people around at the border who don't have the proper documents, this whistleblower said CBP officers have been directed to ban travellers for five years.
"These are unjustified," said Saunders, who has a record number of clients who were given five-year bans at B.C. borders since this summer. "It's a change in their policies and that basically is management, upper management, that's decided to do this change."
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection has told CTV News in the past that there has been no policy change, though they have acknowledged the increase in expedited removals. When questioned again Friday, the spokesperson responded that they stand by their previous statements.
But the insider who wrote the damning email said "this is not why I joined Customs," adding that the entire process has "gotten way out of hand".
He went on to say officers were directed to interrogate Iran-born travellers in early January. This includes American citizens, he said, "solely based on their national origin." He went on to say that he himself interrogated some for up to ten hours in a full anti-terror investigation.
At the time, Negah Hekmati, who holds both American and Canadian passports, told reporters she and her family were held by U.S. authorities for five hours at the Peace Arch border crossing. She and her family were just some of the dozens who reported being held for hours.
When questioned, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said reports of a top-down directive were false, and while it acknowledged "an enhanced posture" to safeguard national security, a spokesperson wrote, "CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation." When asked again Friday, a spokesperson said they stand by their previous statements.
Saunders told CTV News he was at the Peace Arch border crossing when this happened, and "saw it with my own eyes." He said one of his clients – who had just gotten her American citizenship in October – was stopped for about five hours.
"It's profiling," Saunders said. "And from my point of view, it's unconstitutional."
According to U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's civil rights office is investigating. In a tweet on Jan. 8, she called the investigation "an important step forward."
Saunders said Thursday Jayapal's office called him about the whistleblower that reached out, saying they too had an officer call them with concerns.
He wants to see a complete investigation into the Seattle field office, and a change in management.
"This can't continue," he said. "The laws haven't changed. They've remained the same. The only thing which has changed is management at the Seattle Field Office."