KATE LINTHICUM, CINDY CARCAMO and MOLLY O'TOOLE, Los Angeles Times, FEB 01, 2019
"Two U.S. immigrant rights attorneys and two journalists who have worked closely with members of a migrant caravan in Tijuana said they had been denied entry into Mexico in recent days after their passports were flagged with alerts by an unknown government. Their stories are nearly identical: All four report being detained by Mexican immigration authorities while trying to enter the country, and eventually being turned back because the authorities said their passports had been flagged. ... The two attorneys who were denied entry into Mexico, Nora Phillips and Erika Pinheiro, are leaders of Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles and Tijuana that has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. In 2017, the group filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency of unlawfully depriving asylum seekers access to the U.S. asylum process. ... Phillips said she was separated from her daughter and husband and escorted into a separate room in which Mexican officials peppered her with questions, including about how much money she was carrying, whether she had weapons training, and whether she ever had been arrested or convicted of a crime. Her daughter was standing just outside the room and started crying. She was allowed to join her mother while the pair were detained for nine hours and had to sleep on a cold floor without food or water, Phillips said. Ultimately, they were turned away and placed on a flight back to Los Angeles. At a news conference upon her return at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, Phillips said Mexican officials insinuated that it wasn’t Mexico that had placed the alert. She believes the U.S. government is to blame, although she provided no evidence. Trump administration officials have repeatedly accused immigration attorneys of coaching migrants to make false asylum claims. In 2017, then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions criticized what he called “dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum.” “I think this is retaliation,” Phillips said. “I think this is because we sued the U.S. government. I think it’s that we’re pointing out gross, flagrant human rights violations being committed by the U.S. government, and they don’t like that.” ... Former San Diego U.S. Attorney Charles LaBella, who was a federal prosecutor for some 25 years, said the reports were surprising. “I’ve never seen it,” LaBella said Friday. Typically, he said, putting out an alert on someone’s passport through Interpol or a law enforcement agency “usually requires some sort of legal process,” with a judge required to approve the request or charges filed. Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law expert and professor at UCLA, said the reports, if true, were troubling. “I ask the question whether this is a retaliatory move on the part of the government,” he said. “It represents an attempt to interfere with the right to counsel.”"