Trump-Era CBP Targeted U.S. Citizens, Including Journalists and Lawyers, Amid Trailer Concerns, Watchdog Says


By Geneva Sands, CNN

Customs and border protection targeted U.S. citizens, including journalists and lawyers, during the Trump administration as it monitored migrant caravans crossing Mexico, according to a new report from the Department’s Inspector General internal security.

As part of its response to the trailer, the agency conducted unnecessary inspections, inappropriately shared sensitive information about U.S. citizens with Mexico, and made inappropriate requests to deny international travel, the watchdog found. .

The report looks back to 2018, when thousands of migrants gathered and traveled from Central America through Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States, a migratory movement known as the “migrant caravan”. CBP feared that members of the migrant caravan would overwhelm CBP’s resources and hamper its ability to process legitimate trade and travel flows.

At the time, there was heated political rhetoric around the issue with then-President Donald Trump claiming in a series of tweets, just weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, that he would declare a “national emergency” regarding the caravans of migrants moving north towards the US.

To coordinate its response to the caravan, CBP implemented “Operation Secure Line” from October 2018 to February 2019, which included an intelligence section that gathered information on the number and modes of movement of migrants being heading to the border and searched social media and newspaper articles to identify potential migrant caravan organizers, according to the inspector general.

In early 2019, journalists, lawyers and Migrant Caravan supporters raised concerns that CBP was harassing people for their work on the Migrant Caravan, prompting the inspector general to investigate.

The watchdog discovered that CBP officials, especially the intelligence section, had placed “watchers”, which are electronic alerts, on individuals they suspected of being affiliated with the migrant caravan and others who might have had information about these individuals.

“Most of the lookouts linked to the caravans resulted in longer and more intensive inspections for these people when they crossed the US border,” some of which lasted several hours, according to the report.

While the watchdog report found no evidence that this process was used to harass or retaliate, other issues were uncovered.

The “most serious” concerns were about the surveillance that CBP placed on a particular group of journalists. A CBP official monitored the five journalists. Over the next several weeks, the five reporters returned to the United States and CBP referred them for secondary inspection. None of the five journalists were questioned about an illegal crossing incident – the alleged reason they had received an alert for further screening and questioning.

Nearly half of the lookouts linked to the caravans may not have followed the policy, as many CBP officials did not know the proper standard for placing alerts on people, according to the report.

According to the Inspector General, all of the CBP lookouts linked to the trailers were somehow linked to suspected criminal activity, but for 25 of the 51 people, there was no evidence of direct involvement in the caravan. illegal activities.

“Instead, these opinions were based solely on associations of individuals with others suspected of illegal activity,” the report said.

In one case, a CBP official monitored “two lawyers who have already crossed the border with someone who is said to be the administrator of an online discussion group linked to the trailer on WhatsApp,” according to the report.

Many of the CBP officials involved told the Inspector General that they “were not aware of any policy on the appropriate bases to place lookouts or had not received any training on the matter.” As a result, officials did not have a consistent understanding of when to place lookouts, ”the report said.

“In addition, some US citizens were subjected to repeated and unnecessary secondary inspections because CBP did not quickly remove lookouts that were no longer needed, as CBP policy requires,” the report said.

Meanwhile, CBP has also “falsely” asked Mexico to deny entry to at least 14 US citizens associated with the caravan.

While there are certain circumstances in which CBP may restrict travel rights to other countries, CBP “could not articulate any real basis for sending this request” and then admitted that the reasons given in Mexico were not true, according to the report.

There were also information sharing issues associated with this operation. “CBP officials have repeatedly and inappropriately sent names and sensitive information of US citizens to Mexican officials and inappropriately asked Mexico to deny entry to at least 14 of those people,” revealed The report.

The Inspector General made six recommendations, including updating policy guidance and reviewing cases where CBP disclosed sensitive personally identifiable information to Mexican authorities in order to potentially take corrective action.

CBP accepted the report’s six recommendations and told CNN its letter in the report, calling its response to the thousands of migrants seeking admission to the United States via Mexico as “essential” due to the potential for irregular migration. mass and violence against the police. when the caravan reached the US border.

“CBP is pleased to note that the OIG has acknowledged that CBP officials have legitimate reasons for monitoring individuals suspected of organizing, being associated with or having information about the migrant caravan, including in some cases of American journalists and lawyers, ”wrote Henry Moak, CBP’s accountability officer, in response to the findings.

“The use of surveillance is an integral part of CBP’s mission,” he added.

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