Five American journalists have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that U.S. border authorities violated their civil rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan.
The lawsuit includes accounts of five freelance photojournalists, who are all U.S. citizens and were stopped by Custom and Border Protection while traveling to and from Mexico between November 2018 and January 2019. During that time, they were documenting a group of migrants who were traveling to the US-Mexico border.
All of the journalists, Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Kitra Cahana, Ariana Drehsler and Mark Abramson, were sent to secondary inspection and were asked questions about their work at least once.
“When I saw my photo crossed out in a secret government database, I realized the secondary screening and interrogation weren’t random. I was being targeted by my own government for reporting on conditions at the border,” Guan said in a statement.
“In addition to asking Mr. Guan this biographical information, the officer asked whether Mr. Guan knew smugglers, activists, or journalists who assisted migrants in crossing the border. The officer also told Mr. Guan: ‘I know you’ve been around the migrant caravan,’” the lawsuit states.
Go Nakamura was with Guan when they crossed the border. Nakamura was questioned separately along similar lines. He said they told him to share his photos and asked him if he recognized any caravan leaders in photos he had taken.
Cahana was turned around at Mexico City’s airport on Jan. 17 and had her phone taken away before being returned to Detroit. U.S. authorities produced a photo with an “X” over her face when her passport was scanned.
Drehsler was questioned extensively three times by U.S. authorities at the San Diego border crossing in December and January. They asked to see her photos which she didn’t share, and to identify caravan leaders.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that through its actions, the Department of Homeland Security violated (DHS) the First Amendment. It asks for DHS to grant relief as deemed appropriate and call on the government to delete records obtained through the “unlawful questioning.”