Journalist stopped at the border for the third time, questioned about his work and FOIA request
Manuel Rapalo, a freelance journalist, was stopped and pulled aside for additional screening measures while entering the United States on Feb. 16. During the screening, Rapalo was questioned about his work, and specifically his reporting along the U.S.-Mexico border. It was the third time in 2019 he was stopped by border patrol while on a reporting trip.
Rapalo, an American citizen, covered the migrant caravan from Tijuana, Mexico for Al-Jazeera. Every time he has re-entered the U.S. since the beginning of 2019, 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.
He said he was pulled aside in February when re-entering the U.S. in Miami from Haiti. He was previously stopped for secondary screening measures when returning from Mexico on Jan. 5, when his notebooks were searched, and Jan. 26, when his notebooks and photos on his camera were searched.
“When coming into Miami, an officer scanned my passport and immediately said, ‘Hmm, I guess we have to pull you aside, Mr. Rapalo,’” he said of the Feb. 16 stop.
Although Rapalo was returning from Haiti, he was questioned about his work and reporting on the migrant caravan along the Mexican border. Then his notebooks were searched.
One of his reporter notebooks included notes and information about the process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request, which he intended to do for his work.
“The officer took exception to this, and asked me why I was interested in filing FOIAs,” Rapalo said. “I told him, because I’m a journalist, and it’s one of the tools we have.”
Rapalo said during this border stop in Miami, an official who seemed to “like him” indicated that these stops would be an ongoing problem. “He said I could try Global Entry to make this go faster next time.”
Global Entry is a government program for expediting international travel.
Like the previous incidents, Rapalo said the secondary screenings began with about 30 minutes of questioning, then he was held for 1-2 hours while his luggage was searched. During this search, however, Rapalo said a large amount of attention focused on the paper receipts in his bag and wallet.
Rapalo said that he has changed his behavior due to concerns about protecting his sources and reporting materials. He now brings new memory cards with him each time he travels for work.
CBP did not immediately respond to request for comment.