NEW YORK—News that Mexican officials detained and denied entry to two immigration lawyers and two journalists covering the migrant caravan story raises deep concerns, PEN America said in a statement.

The two attorneys denied entry into Mexico are Nora Phillips and Erika Pinheiro, both leaders of Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles and Tijuana that has been widely critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. In 2017, Al Otro Lado filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency of unlawfully depriving asylum seekers access to the U.S. asylum process. Phillips, legal director of Al Otro Lado, was detained Thursday when she flew into Guadalajara for a family vacation, and was released only after a nine-hour hold during which she was given no water or food. Seemingly unrelated, journalists covering the story of the migrant caravan have similarly been denied entry into Mexico several times over the last few weeks when their passports were flagged. One journalist was detained at the airport for 13 hours. According to the Los Angeles Times, the journalist said a Mexican immigration official told her that her passport had triggered an Interpol alert by “the Americans.”

“It remains unclear why these individuals were detained, but the mere possibility that it was due to their advocacy sets a troubling tone for other journalists and lawyers,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The appearance of retaliation against those who work on issues that the U.S. government does not endorse places a spectre of fear over a wide array of advocates who might now think twice about their own work. If this was in fact an attack on press freedom or the right to counsel, then these violations merit investigation as a clear infringement on our core free expression rights.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]