The criminal complaint is linked to a journalistic investigation that last March revealed that more than 50 journalists, activists and lawyers They were in a secret database that the Office of Customs and Border Control (CBP) developed to obtain information related to a huge caravan of migrants who arrived in the city of Tijuana in Mexico at the end of 2018.
The CBP, the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are the agencies mentioned in this lawsuit that were filed in a federal court in Arizona.
Alex Mensing, one of the plaintiffs and who has been project coordinator of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras organization, told in an interview with Univision News that since June 2018 he has been arrested at least 30 times in border checkpoints and at the Los Angeles airport (LAX) to question him about the migrant caravan and also inquire about his daily activities.
“They ask me about my personal life, my education history, what motivates me to help migrants. I have been asked for my phone. Sometimes it's shorter: just check my backpack and ask me where I'm going. I never know exactly why they stop me, ”Mensing told this media.
The activist details that customs agents have referred him to secondary inspections at the border about 26 times since he got involved in a migrant caravan that reached the El Chaparral pedestrian crossing in the summer of 2018. He also participated in another caravan that arrived in Tijuana in November of that year.
He says he has sometimes been detained for four hours, until immigration officials "feel satisfied" with what he has answered and let him go. To avoid urging his cell phone now he uses two, one leaves him at his home in Tijuana and the other takes him to work in San Diego, California.
"It is intimidation, harassment, which has the purpose of discouraging any kind of solidarity with immigrants," claims Mensing. "They think they are going to find something, but after 30 times they've stopped me, I think they already know that I'm not at all murky," he adds.
"I felt they were criminalizing me"
The lawsuit also details how the activist and photographer Jeff Valenzuela He was handcuffed and chained to a bank by CBP agents on multiple occasions and detained for up to five hours while trying to return to the US. He assures that it happened crossing him by car and on foot.
“They asked me about the work, what I had been doing in Tijuana to support the migrants and the caravan, and how the conditions were in the shelters (of migrants in Mexico),” he detailed in an interview with this medium.
Valenzuela is 35 years old and is a photography teacher for the AJA Project in San Diego. Since December 2018 they have stopped him at the border at least six times to interrogate him, he says. "It wasn't because I did something or something suspicious, I wanted to get information," he said.
According to his complaint, on December 26, 2018, federal agents forced him to unlock his cell phone to show them his photos. He says he accepted because they threatened to confiscate the device to verify that he had no images of "child pornography," which he considers "a pretext."
Two days later, when he was traveling to Los Angeles to visit his family, the officers were more aggressive, he alleges. He was ordered to get out of the car, although he was told that it was not an arrest. "But they handcuffed me anyway," claim. This activist says he had never been handcuffed.
On that occasion they rummaged their emails and their cell phone applications. “I felt that they were criminalizing me without doing anything, without having committed a crime. They took me like a criminal and treated me like that, ” lament. The last arrest occurred on January 25, he says.
Another case mentioned in the complaint is that of Ana Adlerstein, journalist and volunteer involved in supporting migrants and asylum seekers in the desert between Sonora and Arizona. The complaint alleges that border agents once told him that he was under "arrest" and called her an “illegal trafficker” for accompanying a sentry asylum seeker.
When she protested, she was told that "the Fourth Amendment does not apply here," which protects the right to privacy and not to suffer an arbitrary invasion, the lawsuit mentions.
Jeffrey Quinones, a CBP spokesman, said in a brief statement that the agency will not rule on the matter because the matter is already in court. “For policy reasons, the Office of Customs and Border Protection cannot issue comments on pending litigation. However, the lack of comments should not be constructed as an agreement or stipulation with any accusations, ”he said.
For Mohammad Tajsar, an ACLU attorney in southern California, the federal government's practice of "attacking and harassing" immigrant rights activists at the border is not only illegal, but also immoral.
“Instead of providing support, resources and legal help to migrants and asylum seekers, the government punishes people who show compassion for these vulnerable groups. Our demand calls for an end to that, ”said Tajsar.
Activists interviewed by Univision News ask the US government to “stop using” customs officers to harass those who do humanitarian work. "They cannot abuse their power and act with impunity," says Valenzuela. "It is not for them to use the border as an information collection tool, which is unconstitutional," says Mensing.
Enduring or returning: the subhuman conditions that migrants endure in the collapsed shelter of Tijuana (photos)