U.S. Government Tracking Immigration Journalists

Recently, San Diego news affiliate, NBC 7, shared documents they received suggesting the federal government has been tracking journalists and immigration advocates associated with the migrant caravan reaching the southern United States border from Central America. As the caravan reached the border and media attention increased, some activists, journalists, and social media influencers began to suspect they were the targets of increasing scrutiny by immigration enforcement officials. A Homeland Security official leaked documents to the news channel on the condition of anonymity.

According to the documents provided by the anonymous source, the government kept tabs on journalists and activists by:

  • Multiple inspections at migrant shelters
  • Detainments at the border
  • Refusal of entry at the Mexican border
  • Collection of their personal information in a secret database
  • Alerts on their passports preventing them from entering Mexico
  • Inclusion in a “target list” of individuals who should be screened at the border

The document includes individuals’ photos, birth dates, and alleged role in the caravan. Detailed dossiers are included for each person in the document. A dossier on one woman included details about her personal vehicle, her mother’s identity, and her employment history. While Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority to detain any person for additional screenings, they should not be doing so based on profession or political leanings alone, according to immigration experts. The anonymous Homeland Security source noted that creating dossiers on men and women is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.

Journalists and Government Tracking

Several men and women listed in the government database were marked as warranting follow-up screenings. A freelance photographer covering the caravan says she probably crossed the United States – Mexico border at least a dozen times and was transparent about her purpose for doing so each time. In December 2018, she was detained and questioned by border agents multiple times. Once she was asked to leave her cell phone and photography gear on a table outside the interview area. Many of the journalists subjected to secondary screenings at the border said they considered them to be invasive.

Response from Customs and Border Protection

San Diego’s NBC 7 sent the leaked documents to CBP asking questions about the veracity and legality of the alleged tracking tactics. While they did not answer all the questions, they did say the caravan’s decent on the border posed a “risk to public safety” warranting the gathering of evidence that might be needed for future legal actions and to determine if the event was orchestrated. In a follow-up statement to NBC 7’s report, CBP say all the people included in the report were present at the border in November when violence erupted. They claim journalists are being tracked to determine what incited the violence late last year.

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