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The Trump Administration Is Secretly Tracking Journalists and Activists

Protesters during a 2018 "Families Belong Together: Freedom for Immigrants" march in Los Angeles. (Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP)

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump described the approximately 5,000 asylum seekers traveling largely on foot from Central America to the United States as an “invasion.” His description extended not only to the asylum seekers themselves, but to anyone even tangentially affiliated with them. As KNSD, an NBC affiliate in San Diego, reported Wednesday, leaked documents show the government has assembled a secret database of immigration activists, lawyers, journalists and even social media influencers who have reported on, assisted with or been otherwise connected to the so-called migrant caravan.

The report links the tracking to when migrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in November. NBC reports that “journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials.”

Fifty-nine people, mostly Americans, are listed in the database, named the “San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019 Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media” and created by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

After Democrats won the House in November, Trump and the GOP as a whole grew quieter about the caravan, leading some pundits to believe the president had realized he’d made a mistake by turning it into an election issue.

“Trump hasn’t tweeted about the caravan in days,” Eugene Scott wrote in The Washington Post just after the midterm elections. “His unwillingness to bring it up himself since the election has led critics to suggest that even the president knew that his level of attention to the issue was overblown.” But although presidential tweeting about the caravan stopped, Trump and GOP leaders did not forget about it. In February, Trump used the issue in part to justify declaring a national emergency in order to build a border wall—and, as the documents NBC received shows, to justify going after activists, lawyers and journalists.

The documents were provided to NBC by a Department of Homeland Security staff member, on the condition of anonymity. As NBC reports, the database is quite detailed:

For each person, the documents show their photo, often from their passport but in some cases from their social media accounts, along with their personal information. That information includes the person’s date of birth, their “country of commencement,” and their alleged role tied to the migrant caravan. The information also includes whether officials placed an alert on the person’s passport.

Some individuals have a colored “X” over their photo, indicating whether they were arrested, interviewed, or had their visa or SENTRI pass revoked by officials.

Homeland Security had assembled dossiers on each person listed, even though, the source pointed out to NBC, “We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency.” The source added, “We can’t create dossiers on people, and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”

At least one person wasn’t surprised to learn her information is in the database. Nicole Ramos, refugee director and attorney for Al Otro Lado, a legal organization for migrants and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico, told NBC, “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.”

Customs and Border Protection declined to answer specific questions from NBC, but instead responded with an emailed statement saying, “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.”

Read NBC’s full report, which includes photographs of the Homeland Security documents, here.

Ilana Novick
Blogger / Editorial Assistant

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