WASHINGTON — A group of House Democrats is asking the Department of Homeland Security why the agency is compiling a list of lawyers, activists, and journalists to be questioned at the southern border.
In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, Rep. Joaquin Castro and more than a dozen other House Democrats asked DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen why the list, which was first uncovered by NBC’s San Diego affiliate, is being compiled, what specific information it’s recording, and why specific people are being targeted.
“Under what authority is DHS monitoring and investigating reporters and advocacy lawyers as they travel from the United States to Mexico?” the letter, sent to Nielsen on Friday, asks. It is cosigned by 18 other House Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Darren Soto, Jamie Raskin, and Pete Aguilar. The head of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, also wrote to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan last week asking for all the information the agency has compiled, and an explanation for the operation.
NBC reported that the list may have been put together by CBP after a caravan of immigrants traveled to the border from Central America at the end of 2017. It included several people labeled as “organizers” or “instigators,” at least one attorney who had worked with migrants on the border, and 10 journalists, including one who did freelance work for BuzzFeed News.
“The arbitrary detention practices, coupled with questionable practices at points of entry, draw serious concerns. Reports that journalists have been held for 13+ hours for questioning, have been stopped or returned from traveling to do their work, and that lawyers have had sensitive legal documents reviewed by CBP officials is likewise troubling,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “It suggests that the government may be using its power at the border to suppress reporting on issues it would prefer to shield from the public eye. These practices could have a chilling effect on the free press.”
Two reporters who covered the caravan and were on the list also told BuzzFeed News last week that they were stopped by Mexican officials who photographed their passports before they reached the border and were detained and questioned about the caravan by CBP officers.
Friday’s letter also asks whether DHS is communicating with the Mexican government about particular journalists, advocates, and lawyers, and if so, why they’re sharing that information.
Castro is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The letter comes after the DHS inspector general’s office said last week that it is investigating the list.