The Government Is Detaining and Interrogating Journalists and Advocates at the US-Mexico Border

In what looks like a coordinated attack on constitutional rights, the U.S. government has reportedly been targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers working to raise awareness of issues facing migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Wednesday, the NBC affiliate in San Diego revealed leaked documents showing that authorities — including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI — targeted these journalists and activists for scrutiny at the border and created a secret database containing dossiers that included their personal details, social media information, and descriptions of their migrant-related work.

This follows news reports in February documenting how CBP repeatedly subjected journalists to lengthy interrogation and confiscations of their cameras and notes at border facilities. The U.S. government also apparently worked with Mexican authorities to prevent photojournalists from entering Mexico to report on migrant issues.

Let’s be clear: This is unconstitutional.

The First Amendment bars interference with freedom of the press and doesn’t permit the government to retaliate against people based on their viewpoints. That means the government can’t single people out for punishment or harsher treatment simply because it disagrees with the messages they are conveying.

The reported facts in this case look like a First Amendment disaster. Department of Homeland Security officials created a list of activists, advocates, and journalists who were working with or reporting on the migrant caravan in order to flag them for lengthy detentions and questioning at the U.S. border. And it appears that many activists and lawyers were targeted solely because they engaged in speech and association that are at the core of First Amendment protections — namely, speaking out against government policies regarding treatment of asylum seekers or engaging in legal representation of asylum seekers.

DHS also singled out journalists who reported on migrant issues. Many journalists were subjected to lengthy questioning at the border about what they were reporting on and who they had spoken to. Some were even denied entry to Mexico, apparently at the behest of U.S. government officials.

Such actions threaten the freedom of the press as well as the individual journalists’ First Amendment rights. Using the coercive environment of the border to attempt to force journalists to reveal sources or other sensitive information could chill other members of the press who wish to report on subjects they know the U.S. government is interested in. It also raises the prospect of the government using its power to suppress reporting on subjects it would rather the American public didn’t know about — such as the conditions facing migrants at the U.S. border — thus threatening democratic accountability.

CBP suggested in a statement that it sought to interview the advocates and journalists in part because they were on the ground during unrest near the border and are therefore witnesses to potential criminal activity. This rationale doesn’t work. If it did, any journalist who witnesses or reports on pressing matters or potential criminal activity in the United States could be forced to turn over sources and information.

That would amount to an end-run around Department of Justice guidelines for when the federal government can force journalists to turn over information for a law enforcement investigation. Those guidelines require the government to satisfy a higher threshold of need before forcing journalists to provide information. They also operate as a minimum requirement to ensure press freedom.

The border is not, and cannot be, an excuse for the government to avoid complying with the Constitution. Even if CBP has the authority to stop people at the border to make sure they’re admissible to the United States and are not carrying contraband, that doesn’t mean it can trample on their rights or gather intelligence in the process.

The conduct of the U.S. government in retaliating against journalists and activists at the border is disturbing and unacceptable. We’re exploring all available options to hold it accountable.

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

All this talk about fascism and the ACLU censored my original comment here. Is censorship fascist or what?

Anonymous

When it's carried out by the government, yes. You've identified yourself as a crybully. Explain yourself, why are you so messed up that you say the deplorable things expressed in your posts? If you respond with ad hominems, or whine about what a victim you've become, again you display your crybully traits.

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Why don't you kiss what I can't?

Nathaniel Dennison

Not only is my name on this list, I am listed as suspected Antifa/Organizer. My passport is flagged and I can not enter Mexico to continue the work of the non-profit. They seized my visa when heading back to San Diego, after holding me for hours for a "random questioning".
The damage this is having on me and the non-profit I am executive director for, Through My Eyes Foundation, is unbelievable.
I believe this stems from Storyful stealing my IP and selling it to news media around the world, crediting a Seattle antifascist group. I have lost almost all of the work from the nonprofit with the Migrant Caravan, I am uncertain of the future work and heading to other countries. I just wanted to help give a voice to people, to provide humanitarian work...and now I am flagged by the government. I don't know when it will be ok for me to continue our work.

Anonymous

Well, you must not have signed the State's requirement that you or your business refuse any BDS activities against Israel.

Anonymous

I feel it would be relevent to include any images and documentation of the detention as I am sure we would see images of the government and ICE overstepping their authority and violating human rights. Its time we as Americans take a solid stance to abolish ICE and wrongful detention might just break this fascist organization from hurting our friends, family and neighbors. I hope that legal action is taken soon and that these institutions answer for their wrong doings.

Anonymous

Could you foresee pictures on an Abu Graib level kind of coverage? Not within our borders, couldn't happen. Who would believe it?

Anonymous

We all know the reason why they're doing this is because there is no real threat from the border and the government does not want the American people to know. Well it's just a ruse to keep the American public's attention away from all the criminal activity of the Trump family

Anonymous

These are abuses of power by people unlikely to have any integrity, as these jobs tend to attract people who long to wield power for its own sake. The press and eyewitnesses to procedures protect the people against fascism. As Sinclair Lewis said: "When fascism comes to America, it will be waving a flag & carrying a cross." Too many incidents of sexual assault & corruption by Border guards. In the age of computers & cell phone cameras, somehow no clear records of the children taken from their parents or where they are now? Seriously? The chickens will come home to roost, and it will not be pretty. Why fret about the border when the entire country is being sold piece by piece to Russia, China & Israel?

Anonymous

You are so right and it's a total disgrace as America is destroyed from within by Trump and his little mafia family.

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