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VICE News

The government has a secret list tracking reporters and lawyers connected to migrant caravan

Attorneys said they fear the list exists to have a “chilling effect” on people who travel to Mexico to help migrants or cover the news

by Emma Ockerman
Mar 7 2019, 4:04pm

The government is keeping a list of reporters, lawyers, activists and social media influencers with ties to the caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. in order to question them when they get to the border. At least 21 have already been arrested in connection with border clashes back in November.

The list, which features 59 people — primarily Americans — has been utilized by agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop people for questioning once they reach border checkpoints near San Diego. Agents have arrested at least 21 of the people on the list, which is dated Jan. 9, 2019, according to documents obtained by KNSD-TV, an NBC station in San Diego. The list includes photos of the people Border Patrol agents are supposed to stop for questioning, and is titled "San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019 Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media.”

In some instances, the government has compiled dossiers on the individuals with the help of Mexican officials, or had alerts placed on their passports. The list includes 10 journalists, a U.S. attorney, and 47 people who are unlabeled or labeled as “organizers” and “instigators.”

When about 3,000 Central American migrants reached Tijuana and neared the border in November, hundreds of Tijuana residents protested their arrival. Some even tried to rush migrant shelters, and were held back by Mexican police. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said at the time that the situation soon unraveled, and hundreds of people tried to rush vehicle lanes at the crossing, or tried to break through fencing. U.S. authorities arrested 69 people, while Mexican authorities arrested 39 people, according to the Associated Press.

At the time of the clashes, reporters, lawyers and advocates traveled to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to work.

CBP says it’s simply trying to learn more about what started the violence at the border.

"In response to recent incidents in November 2018 and January of this year, which included assaults against Border Patrol Agents, CBP identified individuals who may have information relating to the instigators and/or organizers of these attacks," Andrew Meehan, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement to VICE News. "Efforts to gather this type of information are a standard law enforcement practice. 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."


Attorneys told NBC News they fear the list exists to have a “chilling effect” on people who travel to Mexico to help migrants, or cover their situations for news-gathering purposes. An unnamed former senior DHS official told NBC News that it’s against U.S. policy to stop travelers solely because of their profession. A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, Esha Bandhari, told the news outlet the list reflected an “outrageous violation of the First Amendment.”

Cover: Central American migrants march to the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Migrants want U.S. authorities to speed up the asylum application process for members of migrant caravans seeking to enter the U.S., including accepting more applications per day. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)