The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of five freelance journalists against the Department of Homeland Security for allegedly following and interrogating them. All five are U.S. citizens and were working on a story about a group of migrants making their way to the border between November 2018 and January 2019.
The photojournalists — Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Kitra Cahana, Ariana Drehsler and Mark Abramson — were allegedly inspected twice when attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. They also were questioned about their work.
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the ACLU has asked the courts to rule that DHS violated the First Amendment, should grant relief to the journalists and delete records and information gotten through “unlawful questioning.”
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Guan and Nakamura were asked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in December 2018 to show photos on their cameras and were shown photos of people and asked if they knew these “instigators,” according to the ACLU.
In March, San Diego’s NBC 7 reported it had documents showing that CBP had a list of people to pull aside and question at the border — including the five journalists. According to the reporting, those documents included a photo and identifying information.
“When I saw my photo crossed out in a secret government database, I realized the secondary screening and interrogation weren’t random,” Guan said in a statement. “I was being targeted by my own government for reporting on conditions at the border.”
But CBP has largely denied tracking and interrogating the journalists. CBP told CNN earlier this year that it only chose people who may have had information about “incidents” on the border.
“CBP does not target journalists for inspection based on their occupation or their reporting. CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists,” then-agency spokesman Andrew Meehan said.