U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist questioned at U.S.-Mexico border for second time

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 2, 2019
Case number
1:19-cv-06570
Case Status
Ongoing
Type of case
Civil

Border Stop

Stopped at border?
Yes
US Citizenship Status of Target
U.S. citizen
Denied Entry?
No
Stopped Previously?
No
Asked for device access?
No
Asked to display social media?
No
Asked for social media passwords?
No
Asked intrusive questions about work?
Yes
Were devices searched or seized?
No
Courtesy Ariana Drehsler

In early December 2018, El Barretal shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, housed more than 3,000 migrants from Central America.

— 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.

January 2, 2019

Freelance photojournalist Ariana Drehsler was stopped for a secondary screening and questioned while entering the United States from Mexico on Jan. 2, 2019.

Drehsler arrived around 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry from Mexico, where she had been documenting the caravan of Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. for wire service United Press International.

Similar to a border stop at the same port of entry just days before, she was stopped and questioned by three officials wearing civilian clothes.

“They were the same two people from the first time, as well as another,” Drehsler said. “They said, ‘Oh, we brought a new person,’ and they were like, ‘We mentioned you to this other guy.’” She said the officials made a point to say she would not have to wait as long as last time.

“Before they started asking me questions, I said I was not in Tijuana on New Year’s Day, because I had a feeling this would happen,” she said, referring to an incident the day before, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents had fired at migrants attempting to climb a wall to enter into the U.S.

Drehsler said that one of the officials replied, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

In an attempt to shift the conversation away from the journalists covering the migrant caravan, Drehsler said she brought up the presence of activists, such as those present in Tijuana from Seattle.

“[Border officials] mentioned the new caravan, and asked if the people in the new one understand how hard it is for people to seek asylum at the border. I said I had no idea. They asked about the organizers and activists and said their presence has dropped off. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t know.” 

Just before leaving the secondary screening and entering the U.S., Drehsler said the border agents asked her whether she rented or owned her home.

Drehsler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was confused about the relevance of the question. “[The agent] said she just wanted to know for yourself,” she said. “I said I rented.”

Like her previous border stop on Dec. 30, 2018, none of her belongings, notes, or devices were searched. A few days after this incident, Drehsler would be stopped a third time.

“I didn’t have anything to hide, but I still felt weird answering their questions,” she said. “I felt like an informant.”

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]