Journalists Allegedly 'Tracked' and 'Interrogated' by DHS While Reporting on Border Sue Trump Administration 'To Defend Free Speech'

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Trump administration on behalf of journalists who say they were "tracked, detained and interrogated" by the Department of Homeland Security in what the ACLU has branded "an unprecedented, coordinated attack on the freedom of the press."

According to the ACLU, the five journalists, Bing Guan, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana, Go Nakamura, and Ariana Drehsler, are all U.S. citizens and professional photojournalists that had been reporting on conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border when they were "targeted" by government officials.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, asserts that on "multiple separate occasions," U.S. government officials demanded that the journalists participate in a "secondary screening" at the border and requested that they disclose information about their sources.

Further, the lawsuit claims that officials searched through journalists' photos and notes, with at least one officer accused of taking pictures of one journalist's photographs using a cell phone.

Border officers are also accused of demanding that the journalists show them photographs they had captured of migrants and other people on the Mexican side of the southern border.

The plaintiffs, who are all U.S. citizens, assert that they were identified as being listed in a secret government database leaked to NBC San Diego in March 2019.

That database reportedly included the five journalists' headshots, as well as their personal details and whether they had been interrogated by officials.

"When I saw my photo crossed out in a secret government database, I realized the secondary screening and interrogation wasn't random," Guan said in a statement provided by the ACLU. "I was being targeted by my own government for reporting on conditions at the border."

Guan and her fellow plaintiffs have argued that the government's actions constitute a clear violation of the First Amendment.

"Journalists are democracy's first line of defense," said Kitra Cahana. "We need to be able to work without fear of being put on a secret government surveillance list or having alerts placed upon our passports. This interference effectively prevented me and other journalists from carrying out our reporting at the U.S.-Mexico border. It's an issue that should concern everyone."

Border Patrol
U.S. Border Patrol vehicle is seen next to a section of border fence near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2019, in Hidalgo, Texas. Journalists are suing the Trump administration after they were stopped and screened while trying to work at the U.S.-Mexico border. LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty

In a separate statement, Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney with ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said "a core principle of our democracy is the freedom of the press."

"That freedom is imperiled when the government uses the pretext of border screening to interrogate journalists who were simply doing their jobs," Bhandari said.

Newsweek has contacted the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for comment.