It was late on a Saturday evening in early January when Negah Hekmati was traveling home from Canada with her family, 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter sleeping in the back seat of the car. Frequent travelers between Seattle and Vancouver, they were all enrolled in a border prescreening program that typically expedited their journey through the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash. It’s a trip they make all the time to ski and visit family and friends in Canada. It usually takes under three hours.
But not this time. This time, they were held overnight and questioned through early morning Sunday. Negah’s children, now awake and watchful, worried they were going to jail. The border officers’ uniforms, the room, the questions—it all scared them.
“The experience terrified my children,” Negah shared in a Washington Post editorial. “They didn’t sleep at all that night, fearful that if they did, they might wake up and find us gone.” Negah’s daughter urged her not to speak Farsi. “If I didn’t speak Farsi, she said, they wouldn’t know that we were from Iran, and we wouldn’t get into trouble.”
Negah speaks Farsi because she and her family are Iranian-American. They were among the dozens of travelers of Iranian descent who were held for extended questioning—their passports and car keys confiscated—following heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Federal officials denied singling out Iranian or Iranian-American families at the Peace Arch, instead citing increased traffic and reduced staffing as reasons for the delays. Civil rights groups and lawmakers continue to push back and look for answers.
Family detention, cagey federal officials and our children’s fear: Is this who we are, America?
Negah puts it this way, “Throughout my time living in America, no American had ever discriminated against me because of my ethnicity or religion. Even the Border Protection officers treated us as nicely as they could. But American policies are a different story.”
American policies are hurting families. The Trump administration’s immigration policy priorities are shaping an anti-immigrant environment that is harming our children. Children, whether at the Peace Arch, or the southern border or within the interior of this country, are hurting—afraid they might wake up to find loved ones gone, afraid to speak languages that might “get [them] into trouble.” We must defend them.
Read the full article here.
Read Negah’s personal account of the experience here.