Photojournalist Ariana Drehsler was stopped for a secondary screening three separate times in one week while crossing the US-Mexico border to cover the migrant caravan in Tijuana this winter – unaware that the journey she had taken countless times before was suddenly more complicated because her name was logged in a secret government database.
That database, part of something called Operation Secure Line, listed 59 advocates and journalists tied to the migrant caravan, according to leaked documents obtained by local news station NBC 7.
“I am an observer, I am actually kind of shy, I don’t know what I could’ve done to be put on a watchlist,” Drehsler, a freelancer based in San Diego, told the Guardian.
Drehsler was grouped in the database as “media/journalist”, alongside others identified as “instigator” and “organizer”. Her image in the database, like those of several others, is marked with a bright green X on her face to indicate an alert has been placed on her passport. NBC 7 reported that the database included a dossier on each person.
Civil rights activists and members of Congress have expressed alarm about this database, as well as the arrest of more than 37 other immigration activists by Donald Trump’s administration. They see it as a politically motivated crackdown on media and campaigners as Trump seeks to ramp up the pressure to build a border wall.
“I have not seen this kind of systematic targeting of journalists and advocates in this way,” said the ACLU staff attorney Esha Bhandari. “I think it is very troubling, very disturbing.”
Bhandari said there was a link between the database and the Trump administration’s arrests of immigrant activists and advocates, which could have a chilling effect on people exercising their right to free speech.