NEW YORK—News that the United States government has been monitoring dozens of journalists, lawyers, and immigration advocates covering the migrant caravan and other U.S.-Mexico border issues is a shocking and unwarranted intrusion on privacy and press freedom by the U.S Customs and Border Protection, PEN America said in a statement today.

Leaked documents from a source internal to the federal Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) agency have revealed that the agency has been tracking and monitoring over 50 individuals, mostly journalists and other immigration advocates at the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. government database contains extensive personal information about targets like Ariana Drehsler, a photojournalist who has been reporting on the migrant caravan since last fall. Several of these individuals have reported that they were monitored and even detained previously for prolonged questioning along the border in January and February. The leaked documents reveal CBP did create dossiers with extensive background information about dozens of reporters, lawyers, and other advocates. Some of these advocates have been critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Lawyer and advocate Nicole Ramos is the refugee director of nonprofit Al Otro Lado, which filed a lawsuit in 2017 accusing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency of unlawfully depriving asylum seekers access to the U.S. asylum process. CBP responded to the news last night of these leaked documents claiming it is routine practice to monitor criminal activities and to track journalists covering criminal activities to learn more.

“The existence of a U.S. government database monitoring legal comings and goings of human rights advocates and journalists is a shocking and unwarranted violation of their First Amendment rights,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The mere speculation that the U.S. government was collaborating with the Mexican government to detain journalists and lawyers was troubling enough. The conclusive reporting that this database actually exists, and that the government justifies its monitoring of these advocates as routine, is a shameful violation of press freedom and a threat to our most basic constitutional rights.”

PEN America previously reported concern about the detention and questioning of journalists as this case began to develop. You can find out more here.


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]