U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist stopped at the border for the second time, camera searched

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 26, 2019

Border Stop

Border Point
Washington, D.C.
Target Nationality
US Citizenship Status of Target
U.S. citizen
Denied Entry?
Stopped Previously?
Asked for device access?
Asked intrusive questions about work?
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
Courtesy Manuel Rapalo

A journalist captures the movement of migrants around the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 31, 2018.

— Courtesy Manuel Rapalo
January 26, 2019

Manuel Rapalo, a freelance journalist, was stopped and pulled aside for additional screening measures while entering the United States via Washington, D.C. on Jan. 26, 2019. During the screening, Rapalo was questioned about his reporting along the U.S.-Mexico border and had his notebooks and camera searched.

Rapalo, an American citizen, covered the migrant caravan from Mexico for Al-Jazeera. Every time he has re-entered the U.S. since then, he says, he has been pulled aside for a secondary screening. Rapalo believes that a flag or marker has been placed on his travel documents because border officials have consistently stopped him only after scanning his passport.

The first time this happened, Rapalo said, was Jan. 5, when Customs and Border Protection officials questioned him about his work and searched through his notebook. When he returned from another reporting trip on the migrant caravan on Jan. 26, he was stopped again.

“It was more intensive [than the previous incident],” Rapalo said. “This time they went through everything in my bag, including through my camera.”

Similar to the first incident, Rapalo said the secondary screening began with about 30 minutes of questioning, then he was held for 1-2 hours while his luggage was searched.

Rapalo said that border authorities did not request that he delete photographs, but that he has changed his behavior due to concerns about protecting his sources and reporting materials. He now brings new memory cards for his equipment with him when he travels for work.

“I said that I felt really uncomfortable with [the border officials] going through my pictures,” Rapalo said of this incident. “I’m concerned with all of the names that I have in my notebooks of sources, and photographs of migrants, that [border officials] should not have.”

Rapalo said that U.S. authorities have screened him during other trips, including searching the photos on his camera and questioning him about public records requests he intends to file.

CBP did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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