U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist questioned at San Ysidro border

Incident Details

Date of Incident
December 30, 2018
Case number
Case Status
Type of case

Border Stop

Target Nationality
US Citizenship Status of Target
U.S. citizen
Denied Entry?
Stopped Previously?
Asked for device access?
Asked intrusive questions about work?
Courtesy Ariana Drehsler

Unlike the U.S. side, where onlookers are supposed to keep a distance, those at Las Playas de Tijuana in Mexico are allowed to get close to the border wall that separates the two countries.

— Courtesy Ariana Drehsler
November 20, 2019 - Update

Photojournalist sues DHS, agencies after questioned about caravan coverage

Freelance photojournalist Ariana Drehsler and four other photojournalists filed a lawsuit against the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Nov. 20, 2019.

The plaintiffs were each questioned by CBP officers from November 2018 to January 2019 about their work covering the Central American migrant caravan’s arrival to Mexico. In March 2019, it was revealed that DHS officials in San Diego had created a database of journalists, activists and attorneys who were involved in some way with the migrant caravan. Drehsler and two of the other plaintiffs were listed in the database.

“This lawsuit challenges U.S. border officers’ questioning of journalists about their work documenting conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border,” the suit begins “The border officers’ questioning aimed at uncovering Plaintiffs’ sources of information and their observations as journalists was unconstitutional.”

The suit seeks a ruling that such questioning violates the First Amendment and an injunction requiring the agencies to expunge any records or files about the photojournalists. The suit remains ongoing as of January 2022 and discovery is underway.

December 30, 2018

While covering the migrant caravan in Mexico, freelance photojournalist Ariana Drehsler has been stopped for secondary screenings each time she has re-entered the United States since December 2018.

At around 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 30, 2018, Drehsler arrived at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego to cross back into the United States. She had been covering the migrant caravan for wire service United Press International. She would be stopped again on Jan. 2 and Jan. 4.

Drehsler said that the U.S. border agent who had her passport asked her a couple of questions before informing her that she would need to go to secondary screening.

“A man and a woman in civilian clothes came up to me and took me into another room. They asked me what I was doing in Tijuana, who I work for, what other outlets I’ve worked for, my editor’s phone number,” Drehsler said. “They also asked about my background as a photographer.”

She said that she was asked about what she knew about the caravan, people crossing the border illegally, and details about the shelters for migrants in Mexico.

“I didn’t hide anything, but I also didn’t give them information like the names of fellow journalists. And they also didn’t ask me for specific names.”

Drehsler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the border officials informed her that her passport had been “flagged,” but they did not know why, and they indicated that she might want to budget more time for border crossings since she could be stopped again.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents did not search Drehsler’s notes, electronic devices, or baggage, and she was permitted to bring her phone into questioning. She left the port of entry and entered the United States around 1:25 a.m.

CBP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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