The U.S. government has been tracking, targeting, and detaining journalists who closely covered a large migrant caravan that made its way from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border near the end of 2018.
Early this month an NBC investigation uncovered documents showing that the U.S. government created a database to track journalists, activists, and social media activists tied to the caravan. The database listed the journalists as targets; at least two even had alerts placed on their passports, which prevented them from entering Mexico to work.
According to documents provided by an anonymous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employee, 10 journalists (seven of whom are U.S. citizens) are listed as instigators, organizers, or “unknowns”.
For each person, the database contains a photo and personal information such as date of birth, “country of commencement,” and their alleged role with the caravan. It also states whether officials placed an alert on the person’s passport.
This is the second time the U.S. government has been accused of violating journalists’ first amendment rights. In February, several news reports showing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents repeatedly confiscating journalists’ cameras and notes at border facilities, as well as subjecting them to interrogation. The U.S. government also coordinated with Mexican authorities to prevent photojournalists from entering Mexico in order to report on migrant’s issues.
The ACLU has issued a statement on the reports, saying:
The reported facts in the case look like a First Amendment disaster. Department of Homeland Security officials created a list of activists, advocates, and journalists who were working with or reporting on the migrant caravan in order to flag them for lengthy detentions and questioning at the U.S. border. And it appears that many activists and lawyers were targeted solely because they engaged in speech and association that are at the core of First Amendment protections – namely, speaking out against government policies regarding treatment of asylum seekers or engaging in legal representation of asylum seekers.
DHS also singled out journalists who reported on migrant issues. Many journalists were subjected to lengthy questioning at the border about what they were reporting on and who they had spoken to. Some were even denied entry to Mexico, apparently at the behest of U.S. government officials.
According to CBP officials, journalists were only detained because they were witnesses to potential criminal activity. However, this would represent a clear violation of Department of Justice guidelines on when government officials can force journalists to turn over information.
The actions of CBP and DHS officials sets up a dangerous precedent of retaliation against journalists, a clear violation of the First Amendment and yet another attack on the free press.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.