Secret Government Database Tracked Journalists and Immigration Activists

Ellie McFarland and Indri Schaelicke | @El_Far_Away_Land @ischaelicke

Documents leaked that a U.S. Government source leaked to NBC 7 San Diego show that several federal agencies created and used a database to track journalists, activists, and influencers with an association to advocacy surrounding the December 2018 migrant caravan. The caravan entered the United States via San Diego, and its participants were primarily from Guatemala. 

The database contains the names and passport images of these individuals. The pictures for some of the people came straight from social media profiles. Records of arrests, detainment, and questioning are also located in the database for specific individuals. Based on undetermined factors, the government database indicated that some journalists needed a “secondary screening” for possible threats to national security whenever they crossed the Mexico-U.S. Border. Specific individuals in the database were marked with an “X” to indicate having had restrictions placed on their passports.

The story of the migrant caravan enjoyed non-stop coverage by the media; thus, thousands of individuals could be in the database, from anyone in the media to attorneys and activists. These individuals may live thousands of miles away from any Latin nation or nation affiliated with the migrant caravan, calling into question why they would be in it in the first place.

The Database Harms Journalists

This database may have impacted at least two journalists involved in coverage of the migrant caravan, according to cpj.org. Kitra Cahana and Daniel Ochoa, two decorated journalists covering the caravan, were detained at the Mexican border “without reason” and held and questioned for up to 13 hours in customs. They were also denied entry to Mexico by officials from Mexico’s National Institute for Migration. 

The existence of this database has raised a great deal of controversy. On one hand, some are calling it an outright attack on journalism; however, others maintain that it is a simple protection measure for the sake of border security. Either way, it has impacted and has the capacity to impact the lives of those involved in immigration activism.


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