Cahana_border stop

Journalist denied entry into Mexico found on government’s secret database

March 12, 2019

Freelance photojournalist Kitra Cahana had an alert placed on her passport and was entered into a database authorized by the U.S. government, which collected information about her and other journalists. Cahana was ultimately denied entry into Mexico multiple times.

Cahana was one of many journalists covering the Central American migrant caravan’s arrival to Mexico. While traveling from Canada to Mexico City on Jan. 17, Cahana was pulled aside both in Montreal and in Detroit, where she had a connecting flight, due to a “flag” on her passport, she said.

During the secondary screenings by U.S. authorities, Cahana was asked about her work, how it was funded, and whether she was covering the caravan on assignment. She was allowed to board her flight, but upon arrival was pulled aside again due to the alert on her passport — this time, by Mexican authorities who separated her from her phone, Cahana said.

She was ultimately denied entry to Mexico and was forced to return to Detroit.

On March 6, NBC 7 in San Diego broke the story that Department of Homeland Security officials in San Diego had created a database of journalists, activists and attorneys who were involved in some way with the migrant caravan. The anonymous whistleblower who brought the documents to NBC 7 told the news outlet that the DHS had created dossiers on each individual in the database.

“We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency,” the anonymous source said. “We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed to NBC 7 that the seal on the documents indicates that “the documents are a product of the International Liaison Unit (ILU), which coordinates intelligence between Mexico and the United States.”

“In the current state of journalism, it’s really freelancers who are bringing so much news to the public,” Cahana told NBC 7. “And the uncertainty of having an alert placed on your passport and not knowing where and when that’s going to prevent you from doing your work is really problematic.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented other journalists covering the migrant caravan who were targeted by U.S. authorities for additional border screening measures. Some, including Go Nakamura and Ariana Drehsler, are listed in the database.

— The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].

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