Widespread abuses by Customs and Border Protection officials without repercussions or accountability have led many to refer to the border zone area as a constitution-free zone. In practice, Border Patrol agents routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority resulting in repeated violations of constitutional rights. These include the First Amendment Rights with respect to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble.
In March 2019, NBC 7 San Diego reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maintains a secret database of lawyers, journalists, and others who were covering the migrant caravan or advocating for asylum seekers. Several of those in the database reported spending hours in secondary screening, and at least three people reported being barred from crossing into Mexico. NBC 7 San Diego filed this lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security seeking records that reference the secret database.
This case is about preserving the fundamental First Amendment right to hold our government accountable at the border and challenging CBP’s abusive behavior of those who seek to exercise these rights. Ray Askins is an activist concerned about environmental issues at the border. While standing on a public street in Calexico, he took photographs of the Port of Entry building to illustrate a presentation he planned to give on vehicle emissions at ports of entry. Christian Ramirez is a human rights activist who photographed male CBP officers frisking female travelers as they were preparing to leave the United States at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
This is a First Amendment case brought against DHS, CBP, and certain named officials for their interference with the plaintiffs’ right to protest, observe and record activity at the U.S. Border Patrol’s checkpoint on Arivaca Road near the Arizona-Mexico border. Although CBP claims that this checkpoint is temporary, it has been in continuous existence for seven years. Many residents of Arivaca must drive through the checkpoint every day to reach jobs, schools and shops. The plaintiffs are members of an Arivaca, Arizona community organization which organized a “checkpoint monitoring campaign” in response to a number of complaints of civil rights abuses by agents at the checkpoint. A number of these incidents were detailed in an Administrative Complaint filed with DHS Office of Inspector General and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
On September 13, 2017, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts, brought suit against Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, challenging those agencies’ practices of seizing travelers’ electronic devices without a warrant or individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. The organizations filed on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident who had smartphones and other electronic devices seized when they arrived at the U.S. border. Many of the plaintiffs had their devices confiscated for extended periods of times. The plaintiffs seek the return of their devices, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the government to seek a warrant or have probable cause that a crime was committed prior to seizing a travelers’ cellphone. On December 15, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.