An anonymous source inside the Department of Homeland Security recently leaked documents to an NBC affiliate confirming an elaborate surveillance effort.
The documents, which were obtained by NBC San Diego, show the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement agencies are compiling reports on both journalists and immigration activists, mainly surrounding the migrant caravan of 2018. The documents were part of the Trump administration’s “Operation Secure Line,” which was a multi-agency operation tasked with monitoring the migrant caravan and those who were covering it or otherwise associated with it.
In addition to the surveillance campaigns, several journalists and advocates were prevented from going into Mexico to do work related to immigration at the San Ysidro port of entry, after the Trump administration placed alerts on their passports. The leaked documents show the names and photos of organizers, activists, journalists, photographers, and even attorneys, along with their dates of birth and their current status. In some cases, people were deported. In other cases, they were interrogated:
One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.
These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the U.S. government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.
The list shown in the leaked documents is a SharePoint application used across multiple agencies including Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE), and the San Diego office of the FBI. According to NBC San Diego, seven of the 10 journalists who were being monitored were U.S. citizens. Each of the approximately 60 names also had individual dossiers compiled on each of them.
Nicole Ramos, an attorney with immigrants rights organization El Otro Lado, told NBC she suspects the surveillance campaign revealed in the documents is a form of retaliation from the Trump administration.
“The document appears to prove what we have assumed for some time, which is that we are on a law enforcement list designed to retaliate against human rights defenders who work with asylum seekers and who are critical of CBP practices that violate the rights of asylum seekers,” Ramos said.
A lengthy statement from a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the surveillance was done in response to violent confrontations at the border, and that the questioning of journalists was done in order to learn how the confrontations may have started.
“Criminal events, such as the breach of the border wall in San Diego, involving assaults on law enforcement and a risk to public safety, are routinely monitored and investigated by authorities,” the statement read. “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.”
The U.S. ranked #45 out 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 world press freedom Index, dropping 13 spots from its previous ranking of #32 in 2013. The index specified that President Trump’s characterization of the media as “the enemy of the people” and the arrests of and occasional violence against journalists on the job put American press freedom at risk.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.