The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concerned by reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is harassing journalists or subjecting them to invasive questioning during secondary screening when they cross into the United States.
CPJ has spoken with at least eight journalists who said that U.S. border agents questioned them during secondary screenings about their reporting on a migrant caravan in Mexico. In at least six cases, the journalists said that agents asked to review photos or provide information about the migrant caravan.
Separately, two journalists told CPJ they were contacted by CBP and asked to hand over video footage and submit to an interview as part of an internal investigation into potentially illegal conduct from border agents. CPJ is also aware of at least two cases where Mexican border agents denied entry to journalists who were previously questioned or photographed by CBP.
The cases took place amid increased press coverage of migrant issues on the Mexico-U.S. border. Several journalists with whom CPJ spoke said that border agents harassed them or took photographs of them.
A video published in the Intercept shows a border agent telling journalists they can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony for “aiding and abetting” individuals to enter the U.S. The video was published as part of an Intercept investigation into harassment of journalists, lawyers, and activists at the border.
“Custom and Border Protection’s apparent use of secondary screening as a pretext for questioning journalists about their reporting is akin to treating the media as informants and is a worrying sign for press freedom,” said CPJ North America Program Coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck.
“Journalists have a duty to protect their independence and the confidentiality of their sources. They should not be subject to questioning that goes beyond the purpose of facilitating lawful travel entry for an individual.” Journalists told CPJ that the agents’ questions during secondary screenings often seemed more targeted at intelligence gathering.