Pastor put on watchlist after work with migrants at border sues US government


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A pastor with a Manhattan branch of the United Church of Christ sued the Trump administration after she was placed on a secret watch list of journalists and immigrants rights activists.

Rev. Kaji Douša told Religion News Service on Tuesday that she has filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and two of its sub-agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Douša alleged that she was put on a secret watch list of more than 50 people who have reported on or otherwise worked on the migrant crisis currently developing at the U.S.-Mexico border, a process which she says led to an unlawful revoking of her Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) pass which allows for faster border crossings for eligible individuals.

“They interrogated her about her motives. They interrogated her about her associations. They revealed to Pastor Douša that they had collected detailed information about her and her pastoral work. And they revoked the access she had previously been granted to expedited border crossing,” reads the lawsuit, according to RNS.

Douša told RNS in an interview that the surveillance makes it harder for her work aiding migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., which she argues is her right as it involves her faith.

“It’s very, very difficult for people to be able to have a conversation where they unburden their conscience and seek the path to redemption when they’re worried about whether or not there’s a microphone in the confessional,” Douša said. “I don’t know the extent of the government surveillance. I don’t want to make anybody more vulnerable.”

Her lawsuit came after the existence of the Trump administration’s secret database of journalists, activists, and social media influencers was revealed by a San Diego NBC News affiliate in March, which at the time an anonymous DHS official said was “an abuse of the Border Search Authority.” 

Nicole Ramos, an activist who works with refugees, also found herself on the list in March and told NBC at the time that the list was a means of retaliation against the Trump administration’s critics.

“The document appears to prove what we have assumed for some time, which is that we are on a law enforcement list designed to retaliate against human rights defenders who work with asylum seekers and who are critical of CBP practices that violate the rights of asylum seekers,” she said.

A spokesperson for DHS did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill on the lawsuit. A CBP spokesperson told NBC in March that the list was comprised of people who were present during an outbreak of violence on the borer months ago, and was compiled to determine if the event was staged or required further action.

“It is protocol following these incidents to collect evidence that might be needed for future legal actions and to determine if the event was orchestrated,” a CBP official told NBC. “CBP and our law enforcement partners evaluate these incidents, follow all leads garnered from information collected, conduct interviews and investigations, in preparation for, and often to prevent future incidents that could cause further harm to the public, our agents, and our economy.”

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