Public radio reporter stopped for secondary screening while crossing U.S.-Mexico border

December 1, 2017

Latif Nasser, a reporter for New York Public Radio WNYC, was stopped for additional screening while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a series about border patrol in December 2017.

Nasser, then a U.S. permanent resident, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he was recording b-roll, or additional background sounds of him crossing the bridge from the U.S. to Mexico and back in El Paso, Texas. Nasser said that he was wearing his headphones and was holding his recorder with a mic on it as he was returning to the U.S.-side of the border.

Nasser noticed a sign posted at the U.S. facility which specified that cameras, video cameras and cellphones were not allowed — Nasser said he assumed that audio recording was fine. He told CPJ that he continued recording throughout handing over his passport and having “very normal” exchanges with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.

When the officer saw his recorder, Nasser said the officer “freaked out.” Nasser said the officer asked what it was and whether he was currently recording, to which he responded yes. Nasser told CPJ that the officer then effectively shut down to entire line, ordered Nasser to stop recording and called for other officers to assist him.

The officers directed Nasser to a secondary screening room where they had him wait with another man, and placed his belongings — including his audio recorder, passport and green card — on a desk in his eyesight but out of his reach. While the officers examined his belongings, they did not play any files on the recorder.

Nasser waited in the screening room for approximately an hour, he said, with officers periodically approaching him and asking the same questions each time: Who was he, what was he doing, what was his reporting on, and why was he recording?

After the fourth or fifth time he was asked the same series of questions, Nasser said he told the officers that he needed to leave and that he knew the problem was with the minute-long recording of his interaction with the officer. Nasser told CPJ he offered to delete it, and after some awkward fumbling he did so.

At the end of the encounter, which Nasser said lasted around 2 to 2.5 hours, a final officer — who was wearing a kevlar vest with “DHS” printed on it — approached him and said that he hadn’t technically done anything wrong, but that his actions had been suspicious.

“We were just doing our jobs,” Nasser recalled the officer saying. While the first few officers were incredibly angry that he had been recording, Nasser said, when the final officer found out it was just audio recording, with no video, “he made it seem like it was no big deal.”

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

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