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Lawsuit Challenges Surveillance of Border Lawyers, Activists

July 24, 2019 (1 min read)

Sam Levin, The Guardian, July 24, 2019

"The US government has interfered with humanitarian aid work at the US-Mexico border by monitoring activists, restricting their travel and detaining them, a new lawsuit alleges.

In a complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges that the US government surveilled three not-for-profit organizers, who were included in a secret US database of more than 50 activists and journalists that was leaked earlier this year. The surveillance efforts hampered the activists’ relief efforts on both sides of the border, according to the the complaint.

“It’s terrifying,” Erika Pinheiro, an attorney with the immigrant rights’ organization Al Otro Lado and plaintiff in the case, told the Guardian by phone from Tijuana, Mexico. “This administration has taken a lot of steps to criminalize US citizens who stand in opposition to their policies … I’m just trying to do my job.”

The ACLU complaint builds on documents obtained and published by the NBC 7 news station in San Diego in March, which suggested the US government had maintained the database of activists and journalists.

It names three activists on the list: Pinheiro, the Al Otro Lado co-founder Nora Phillips and Nathaniel Dennison, a documentary film-maker who moved into a migrant shelter in Mexico in December to work as a credentialed volunteer.

The lawsuit alleges unconstitutional investigations and surveillance and provides detailed accounts of the way the monitoring has derailed their lives and work. It also demands that the government expunge records unlawfully collected and cease surveillance and investigation of the plaintiffs’ free-speech activities."