U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Student photojournalist stopped at US-Mexico border for secondary screening

Incident Details

Date of Incident
December 29, 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?
Equipment Seized
Search Warrant Obtained
REUTERS file/Chris Wattie

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents look toward the Mexican border at the San Ysidro border in San Diego, California in November 2018.

— REUTERS file/Chris Wattie
November 20, 2019 - Update

Photojournalists sue DHS, agencies after questioned about caravan coverage

Independent photojournalist Bing Guan 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.

“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 29, 2018

Bing Guan and Go Nakamura, American photojournalists, were pulled into secondary screening on Dec. 29, 2018, while driving through the San Ysidro point of entry, a border crossing between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers separated Guan, who was driving his car, and Nakamura and questioned them individually. Guan told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he was questioned by two plainclothes CBP agents, one of whom produced a tear sheet with photographs of people who had been around the caravan. Guan told CPJ that the agents showed him two or three sheets of photo arrays “with between 9 and 12 photos” on each page. These included some photos that appeared like mugshots and others that seemed like surveillance photos.

Guan told The Intercept that he recognized two individuals as anti-migrant activists and thought that a third was associated with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an immigrant rights group. Guan said that the CPB agents referred to the people in the photos as “instigators.”

Guan was asked to open his camera and show photographs, which he did, reasoning that it would be too dark to identify anyone, according to the account in The Intercept.

Likewise, Nakamura told CPJ that a CBP officer asked him to show his photographs to prove he was a photographer. The officer then showed Nakamura photographs of 20 people and asked whether he had seen them in Mexico. Nakamura said that he was not given an explanation of who the people were.

Two days prior to the secondary screening, Nakamura and Guan were stopped by Mexican municipal police officers who photographed their passports.

A few weeks before he was pulled into secondary screening, Guan had driven through the same San Ysidro port of entry without any issues, he said.

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