(Washington, DC) – The United States Congress should press the Department of Homeland Security to explain why journalists, lawyers, and activists have been subjected to intensive scrutiny at the US border with Mexico, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to members of Congress. The harassment restricts the ability of those affected to practice their professions and interferes with their freedom of speech and movement.
At least 23 people, including at least 15 US citizens, have been interrogated, detained, or blocked at the border. At least one journalist and two lawyers were denied entry to Mexico. Those affected were working among a group of migrants who reached the border in late 2018 and early 2019. The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Intercept, the San Diego Tribune, National Public Radio, and NBC7 Investigates have reported on the incidents.
“Congress should find out why the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies have been interrogating and blocking lawyers and journalists at the border with Mexico,” said Alison Parker, US program managing director at Human Rights Watch. “Members of the media and lawyers should be able to do their work without government harassment.”
In one set of incidents, Nora Phillips and Erika Pinheiro, directors of Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit organization that represents and supports asylum seekers in Mexico, were denied entry to Mexico in late January by Mexican officials who told them that an alert had been issued for their passports. In Pinheiro’s case, the officials told her that a foreign government had issued the passport alert.
In other incidents, journalists reported being under surveillance while they worked near the US-Mexico border. They said that they had been detained and interrogated by US Customs and Border Patrol when re-entering the US after working in Mexico, and that officials had confiscated and searched their phones. Several journalists and activists were held in custody for many hours at a time and were detained and interrogated on multiple occasions.
“The public needs to know why US officials are interfering with journalists and lawyers who are working at the border with Mexico,” Parker said. “The Department of Homeland Security and related US law enforcement agencies should provide assurances that they will respect freedom of speech and movement.”