Federal U.S. border agents have compiled a list of activists, legal advocates and journalists to be targeted for questioning when they’re encountered at the border with Mexico, according to new reporting. Some have already been detained and interrogated.
The revelation raises serious First Amendment issues. It also underscores how skewed the Trump administration’s priorities have become on immigration. The administration appears again to care more about manipulating public opinion regarding issues at the border than actually addressing them.
According to KNSD-TV in San Diego and NBC News, Customs and Border Protection compiled a list of 59 people — mostly Americans — who border agents believe were present when violence broke out at the Tijuana section of the border in November. Some migrants, frustrated at the long wait for processing, ran through checkpoints and clashed with immigration officers, who responded with tear gas.
The watch list includes one U.S.-based attorney and 10 journalists, seven of them Americans. Another 31 Americans were labeled as “instigators.” The border patrol says the list was needed to “collect evidence” about the Tijuana incident.
But Americans who were there to protest, to provide legal representation or to cover the conflict as journalists weren’t the issue; the migrants were. The only reasons for intimidation tactics like these against Americans are to silence protests, hinder legal action and thwart legitimate reporting of the issue.
Some of those on the list who’d been detained told NBC News they were interrogated for personal details and were asked to turn over their cellphones. Though the border patrol says it’s all part of the review of the Tijuana unrest, many of the interviewees told the network they weren’t even asked about that. They were, however, asked about their work with migrants seeking asylum — a legitimate process that migrants have a right to do and that advocates have a right to help them with.
The American Civil Liberties Union rightly calls the listing and detentions “an outrageous violation of the First Amendment” and is contemplating legal action. “The government cannot use the pretext of the border to target activists critical of its policies, lawyers providing legal representation, or journalists simply doing their jobs,” the ACLU said in a statement.
The House Homeland Security Committee is investigating, as is the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border patrol. Investigators need to identify who ultimately ordered this. Did it come from the White House? That’s not an unthinkable scenario, given the administration’s demonstrated hostility toward constitutional freedoms of the press, protest and legal advocacy.
Those freedoms are more important than ever, considering the growing public scrutiny and misinformation regarding immigration issues. Orders were issued to violate Americans’ basic civil rights. Whether it’s the courts, internal investigators or Congress, someone needs to hold accountable the officials who abused their powers.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch