First Amendment @ The Border

image credit: The Washington Post

Since the 2016 Presidential election there has particular political attention paid to the “border crisis.”  Depending on your political ideology, this term, “border crisis” means two different things. Conversation has turned into an outcry, on both sides.  The Trump administration has pushed for a literal “border wall”, increased security, harsher punishments for undocumented people and those who attempt to cross the border from Mexico.  The other border crisis is the fact that the United States government has been holding people at the border in detention facilities.

Thanks to an analysis from the Washington Post, it is clear that the Trump administration has attempted to thwart the world from understanding what has been going on at the border in several ways.  

Journalists have been on the front lines working to combat this spin campaign on the “border crisis” by taking photos, videos, and documenting the stories of the people in these camps.  This has not happened without serious opposition from border patrol. In an article entitled, “Does the First Amendment Hold at the Border?”, published by The Atlantic, it reports on the photojournalists who are suing three federal border agencies.

Starting in the Fall of 2018, photojournalists have been going to the U.S. Mexico border to report on the migration of Central American “caravans.”   A number of these journalists have reported that they’ve experienced particularly unusual searches and have been subject to intense inspections by both Mexican and United States border agencies.  According to The Intercept, “Journalists, Lawyers, and Activists working at the Border Face Coordinated Harassment from U.S. and Mexican Authorities.” These journalists have been viewed as suspect individuals because of their investigation into border patrol agencies as they’ve worked to expose possibly illegal and definitely inhumane and unethical practices.  

Like the debate surrounding national surveillance conducted by the NSA, this is a complicated issue.  In the article the author points out, “The civil rights and liberties of American citizens are vulnerable to violation at ports of entry, where bureaucrats have tremendous discretion to detain, search, and question individuals and to delay their repatriation.”  This is because “That burden and the intrusive government searches associated with it are ostensibly justified by the need to combat problems as varied as undocumented immigration, child trafficking, terrorism, the spread of agricultural diseases and invasive species, and the smuggling of narcotics and of goods with duties attached to them.”

Then, according to the Washington Post, “a leak from an anonymous source at the Department of Homeland Security added clarity. ‘The [U.S.] government had listed their names in a secret database of targets, where agents collected information on them,’ an NBC affiliate in San Diego reported. ‘Some had alerts placed on their passports, keeping at least two photojournalists and an attorney from entering Mexico to work.’

In response to this information the ACLU filed a suit on their behalf stating, “border officers at ports of entry may ask questions relating to immigration or customs, but they may not use border screening as a pretext to interrogate journalists about their work.”

This is a prime example of how vital the first amendment is to democracy. Without it, these journalists would have been chilled from the start and we the people who are responsible for electing people who make these border policies would know even less of the truth.  

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