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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Anonymous

This is another travesty to our country. Keep passing the word.

jo

We all, world wide saw the cages and conditions, these kids were put in....sorry, not sitting well with me. Where is the humanity, honestly?

Suzi

THIS is dictatorship at work, THIS is tRump and the repub party that enables and supports tRump's dictatorial acts.

THIS is wrong.
THIS is unConstitutional.
THIS is anti-American.
THIS is democracy-destroying.
THIS is how tyranny takes over.

Never, NEVER, say both sides are the same.

David

Freedom of the press, freedom of movement are basic to a Democracy. Our republic was built on those principles. The main thurst of this coup was to strangle democracy. Dictators always go after the press,the lawyers, the activists., You can bet rhis will get more expisure and lawsuits from many parties. WhenTrump and the GOP are gone after 2020 a lot more crimnal activity will be exposed.

Christopher Camp

Stop this outrageous unConstitutional behavior and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law!

Anonymous

I believe if we acually dove deeper ,we would find out they are looking at people that could be violating the law. Aideing criminals is a crime. Unfortunately some of these journalists are really activists. Nobody is above the law even journalists, immagration crime is easy to over look because we all believe people just want a better life. Crime is crime

Anonymous

ACLU -- if you had followed things going on in Mexico with the caravans, then you would know what the concerns are. Mexico is having a LOT of problems with USA activists, etc. being involved with the caravans, because they are instigating unrest. I have seen live videos showing that USA journalists were helping caravan members illegally cross into the USA; I have seen live videos showing USA activists openly smoking pot; showing the 12 year old Honduran boy they kidnapped from one of the Shelters; showing how the USA activists instigated trouble for Mexico when they were trying to move caravan members to a better shelter that was further away from the border. MANY things. Bottom line: Mexico is FED UP with USA citizens coming there to disrupt and cause more trouble.

Helen Jenkins

The represenative of Trump's Adminstration are acting in violation of the First Amendment rights of Freedom of Journalist, advocates, and lawyers to be either observers, taking pictures or video, meet with asylum serkers on our Southern Border. Legal action needs to address these violations to stop this dictatorial behavior on the part of the Trump Administration!

Anonymous

Each individual CBP Agent can be prosecuted for following this unconstitutional order.

Anonymous

unacceptable, this isnt AMERICA anymore

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