According to documents obtained by NBC 7, the U.S. government has created a secret database used to spy on journalists, a lawyer, and immigration activists connected to the migrant caravan that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to defend against. In addition to having alerts placed on their passports, many of the journalists and advocates were either denied entry or endured hours of interrogations.
As journalists and activists encountered the migrant caravan from Central America at the end of 2018, they reportedly felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials. Some had alerts placed on their passports, keeping at least three photojournalists and an attorney from entering Mexico to work.
In leaked documents acquired by NBC 7, the secret database included at least ten journalists, seven of whom are U.S. citizens, a U.S. attorney, and 47 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators, or their roles “unknown.” The target list includes advocates from organizations like Border Angels and Pueblo Sin Fronteras.
The documents were allegedly shared by agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, and some agents from the San Diego sector of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
“We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency,” the Homeland Security source told NBC 7. “We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”
“It is protocol following these incidents to collect evidence that might be needed for future legal actions and to determine if the event was orchestrated,” the Customs and Border Protection wrote in a recent statement. “CBP and our law enforcement partners evaluate these incidents, follow all leads garnered from information collected, conduct interviews and investigations, in preparation for, and often to prevent future incidents that could cause further harm to the public, our agents, and our economy.”
Kitra Cahana, a freelance photojournalist and U.S. citizen targeted by her own government, was covering the border crossings when her passport was flagged. After enduring several hours of interrogations from U.S. federal agents, Cahana was eventually denied entry into Mexico.
“In the current state of journalism, it’s really freelancers who are bringing so much news to the public,” Cahana said. “And the uncertainty of having an alert placed on your passport and not knowing where and when that’s going to prevent you from doing your work is really problematic.”
The NSA, CIA, and FBI routinely violate the First Amendment by incessantly spying on American journalists. Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a relatively new branch of government, DHS’s abusive tactics against innocent U.S. citizens fits right alongside with its historically corrupt sister agencies.