Government kept tabs on journalists, 'instigators'

Border Patrol agents patrol the San Ysidro border crossing after the border between Mexico and the U.S. was closed in the San Ysidro neighborhood of San Diego California

Border Patrol agents patrol the San Ysidro border crossing after the border between Mexico and the U.S. was closed in the San Ysidro neighborhood of San Diego California

The U.S. government has tracked activists and journalists involved in the migrant caravan from Central America at the end of 2018, NBC News reported on Wednesday.

As it revealed the database's existence, KNSD-TV published images of the dossier on a computer screen, with labels such as "organizer", "instigator", and "journalist" attached to personal records. Each entry matches photos - apparently taken from passport records - to biographical data and information such as whether an alert has been placed on the person's passport to flag them for secondary screenings.

The intelligence gathering efforts were done under the umbrella of "Operation Secure Line", the operation designated to monitor the migrant caravan, according to the source. Numerous members of the migrant caravan crossed over from Tijuana to San Diego but were quickly taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents. People listed in the documents provided to the station included 10 journalists, many of whom are US citizens, and an American attorney.

At one point, U.S. authorities fired tear gas at the migrants and shut down the country's busiest border crossing after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed the asylum-seekers would not easily enter the United States.

In a statement to The Associated Press, the agency explained, "criminal events.involving assaults on law enforcement and a risk to public safety, are routinely monitored and investigated by authorities".

The documents show that the United States created a list of over 50 journalists, social media influencers, and activists tied to the caravan that made global headlines in late 2018.

A page from the leaked documents showing three photographers.

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Mitra Ebadolahi, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego's Border Litigation Project, said for years the government has used the pretext of border security to "trample" on Americans' constitutional rights.

"Monitoring journalists and immigration advocates is outrageous - and if based on their political opinions or legitimate human rights-related activities, as we suspect, it is unlawful", said Ashley Houghton, tactical campaigns manager for Amnesty International.

The spokesperson said in an email that after incidents such as breaches of the border wall in San Diego or violence against border agents it is routine to collect evidence for possible future legal action and to determine if such acts were pre-meditated.

Responding to reports of secondary screenings a year ago, CPJ put forth a series of recommendations for CBP and DHS to ensure that security measures did not undermine press freedom.

It cited documents leaked to it by a source in the Department of Homeland Security who requested not to be named.

The document, which is titled "San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019, Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators and Media", was dated January 9, 2019. Both were pulled in for secondary questioning at border crossings and one, Kitra Cahana, eventually was stopped in Mexico, denied entry and had to fly back to the U.S. They were not told why they were targeted. It included details such as the kind of auto she drives and her mother's name, KNSD-TV reported.

In some cases, dossiers were compiled on the individuals, with the help of intelligence from Mexican officials, the report said.

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