weather icon Clear

Lawsuit: US border officers questioned journalists at length

SAN DIEGO — Five American journalists sued the U.S. government Wednesday, alleging border authorities violated their First Amendment rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union recounts the experiences of the freelance photographers and seeks to test the limits of U.S. officials’ broad authority to question anyone, including journalists, entering the country.

All five are U.S. citizens and are named and pictured in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security dossier of 59 people that the agency linked to the caravan, including journalists, organizers and “instigators.”

While KNSD, the NBC affiliate in San Diego, reported on the existence of the dossier in March, the journalists have never shared such detailed accounts of how they were treated by U.S. and Mexican officials.

The NBC affiliate reported Tuesday that it received the dossier from Wesley Petonak, then a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in San Diego.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, opens a window into how U.S. authorities responded to the giant caravan, which attracted President Donald Trump’s attention during the midterm election and spawned chaos in Tijuana, Mexico, including a five-hour closure of the nation’s largest border crossing on Thanksgiving weekend.

Customs and Border Protection said late Wednesday that it does not comment on pending litigation. The Justice and Homeland Security departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mark Abramson, a photographer working for The New York Times, said two CBP officers patted him down when he returned to the U.S. at the San Diego border crossing on Jan. 5.

They emptied his pockets and searched his bag, which contained notebooks with “confidential source material,” the names and contact information of people he encountered while working, personal reflections and receipts to be submitted to his editor for reimbursement, the lawsuit said.

After being taken to another room and patted down again, Abramson said another officer asked what was in his “book,” who was leading the caravan, whether they were for or against the U.S. government and whether he knew of any groups helping the caravan.

Bing Guan, who sold caravan photos to The Intercept, said Mexican authorities approached him Dec. 27 and took a photo of his passport picture, which others also have reported.

Two days later, he was stopped by CBP in San Diego and questioned for an hour by a plainclothes officer about whether he knew smugglers, activists or other journalists helping migrants across the border.

He was shown photos and asked to identify “instigators.” The officer walked him to his car and examined photos on his cameras, taking images of some.

“I know you’ve been around the migrant caravan,” the lawsuit quotes the officer as saying.

When Guan returned to Tijuana in August, a Mexican immigration official said an “alert” had been placed on his passport.

Go Nakamura, who has worked for The Guardian, The New York Times and Reuters, was with Guan when they crossed the border and was questioned separately along similar lines. He said he was told to share his photos and asked whether he recognized any caravan leaders in photos he was shown.

Mexican authorities told him on a stopover from Peru to New York that he had an alert on his passport.

Kitra Cahana, who covered the caravan for the Huffington Post, The New York Times and German newspaper Die Zeit, was turned around at Mexico City’s airport on Jan. 17 and had her phone confiscated before being returned to Detroit. U.S. authorities there produced a photo with an ‘X’ over her face when her passport was scanned, just as they did when she left the country, and questioned her about the caravan.

Ariana Drehsler, who was covering the caravan for United Press International and has had her work published by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and The Wall Street Journal, 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. They wanted to know if word had reached migrants who were thinking of coming to the U.S.

“You’re on the ground, you’re there; we’re not,” one official is quoted as saying.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - VIDEO
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - VIDEO
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democrats unveil 2 impeachment articles against Trump

House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment Tuesday against President Donald Trump, pushing toward votes over charges he corrupted the U.S. election process and endangered national security.

Sanders talks mining, Medicare in Nevada

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was reunited with a Navy veteran who had been depressed to the point of suicide about medical bills, but who credited Sanders help with saving him.

Republicans, Democrats spar over impeachment evidence

The House Judiciary Committee received a detailed summing up of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump Monday as Democrats prepare formal articles of impeachment that could be voted on as early as this week.