CBP Admits to Targeting Journalists, Activists, After Civil Society Groups, Including Defending Rights & Dissent, Demanded Answers

Defending Rights & Dissent Appalled By Order to Jail, Fine Chelsea Manning
May 17, 2019
Defending Rights & Dissent Condemns Unprecedented Attack On Press Freedom, Espionage Act Indictments of Julian Assange
May 23, 2019

After revelations that Customs and Border Patrol (CBB) had monitored journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists, Defending Rights & Dissent joined with a 100 civil society demanding answers. This civil society letter was initiated by the Center for Democracy & Technology. In a May 9, 2019 response letter, CBP admits for the first time to having engaged in this monitoring, though it defended its actions.

In March, NBC San Diego obtained documents from a whistleblower showing that CBP worked with the Mexican government to put together dossiers on “Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media” in connection to the so-called “migrant caravan.” This included dossiers on journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists. As the whistleblower explained, “We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency. We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”

CBP’s letter is concerning on a number of levels. First, while it acknowledges targeting took place in San Diego, it ignores allegation of similar targeting at other border crossings. Second, it justifies these actions. The letter states, “A number of journalists and photographers were identified by Mexican Federal Police as possibly assisting migrants in crossing the border illegally and/or having some level of participation in the violent incursion events.” CBP also justifies its behavior by claiming it was investigating possible violations of 8 U.S. 1324, which criminalizes “bringing in and harboring certain aliens.”

By using this rationals to target journalists and activists, advocates are fearful that CBP is using  8 U.S. 1324 to treat all associational activities with asylum seekers as suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Many of the journalists targeted were photojournalists and thus it is their professional duty to be near tumultuous events to document them. Is this what the government means by “some level of participation in the violent incursion events?”

Defending Rights & Dissent continues to be disturbed that CBP targeted journalists, activists, and attorneys. Greater oversight of CBP is needed and policies must be put in place to prohibit such targeting.