How much control should the border patrol have when it comes to protecting our borders? Should that power include compiling and keeping dossiers on journalists, attorneys, and activists who have come into contact with the migrant caravan? This is the question that’s being raised now: whether the U.S. Border Patrol is trying to seize too much power and infringe on First Amendment rights.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been collecting cross-country intelligence on individuals and groups that have been interacting with the migrant caravans. More than 50 people have been singled out and their information gathered into dossiers. Human rights activists, an attorney, and photo journalists have been detained, questioned, and – according to them – harassed by the CBP.
Photojournalists tell of their experiences. Ariana Drehsler, who covered the caravan for Buzzfeed News and United Press International, said she had been taken into secondary inspection on three separate occasions and questioned on various issues, including what she had seen while photographing the migrant shelters in Mexico. Another was detained for 13 hours at the border on the way to Mexico City, and was eventually denied entrance by Mexican authorities and sent back to the U.S.
A Homeland Security anonymous source leaked documents to NBC 7, which showed pictures of the individuals along with personal information, their suspected role involving the migrant caravan, and even whether an alert has been placed on them and if they had been questioned by CBP authorities.
The documents, dated January 9, 2019, are titled “San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019, Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators and Media.” Both the U.S. and Mexico flags are prominently placed on the document. A banner has “ILU-OASSIS-OMEGA” emblazoned across it. According to NBC 7, the anonymous official said the seal “indicates that the documents are a product of the International Liaison Unit (ILU), which coordinates intelligence between Mexico and the United States.
Nicole Ramos is the Refugee Director and attorney for Al Otro Lado, a law center working to help migrants and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. She is one of the activists the CBP has a dossier on. It includes such personal information as her work and travel history, her mother’s name, and even the car she drives. In an email to NBC 7, she said:
“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.”
Is Protection Infringing on Our Liberty?
On the other side of the coin, CBP claims they are doing what is necessary to keep U.S. citizens safe. Our safety isn’t just about abusing the rights of illegal immigrants trying to force their way into our country; it’s about the massive influx of drugs, sex, and child labor trafficking, and other smuggling crimes. The ability of authorities to lead intelligence-based information gathering is an important part of apprehending criminals and reducing risks.
Chris Wilson is the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. “The alternative to intelligence-based enforcement is having every trunk opened every time someone crosses the border,” he said. “That’s not feasible when you have San Ysidro as the most heavily trafficked port of entry in the western hemisphere.”
A spokesperson from the CBP claimed that “roughly 2,200 people a day along our southwest border are apprehended or deemed inadmissible by CBP agents and officers.” Recent events have had officials scampering to ramp up protection. When the migrant caravan reached the San Diego, CA border, hordes of activists and journalists arrived to either help or report on the event. Over the holidays, migrants rushed border agents – some even threw rocks at them – which prompted defensive measures. These are just the most recent incidents that have inspired CBP to get more in-depth data on people that either may have pertinent information about the migrant population and agenda as well as people who may be assisting migrants who may be known criminals.
The CBP spokesperson said that recent mobilization of large caravans of Central Americans has increased the concern and danger:
“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. These activities could result in a more thorough review of those seeking entrance into our country. It is protocol following these incidents to collect evidence that might be needed for future legal actions and to determine if the event was orchestrated. CBP and our law enforcement 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.”
What price do we pay for our safety and protection? For those who say their First Amendment rights are being violated by the CBP, the cost is too high. Others see the dangers of illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds infiltrating our population as a threat to our country and way of life. There isn’t much they wouldn’t approve of, if it meant our safety. It’s a sticky wicket that will take some serious unraveling and gentle digging to find an acceptable balance.