SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 14:  Vehicles wait to cross from Mexico into the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry on November 14, 2013 in San Diego, California. San Ysidro is the busiest port of entry U.S. is the busiest border crossing in the United States, with some 90,000 people passing daily between Tijuana and San Diego. CBP officers confiscate smuggled narcotics daily at the crossing.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Officers interrogated dozens of U.S. citizens as part of previous admin’s ‘caravan’ obsession

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Officers interrogated dozens of U.S. citizens as part of previous admin’s ‘caravan’ obsession

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Of the more than 50 U.S. citizens flagged by officials, 39 would eventually be interrogated “by members of the Tactical Terrorism Response Team (TTRT), a little-known unit of Customs and Border Protection trained in counterterrorism, not immigration issues,” ProPublica reports. Per the DHS OIG’s report, a number of people flagged for “secondary inspection” were reporters and photographers. They continued to be flagged even after TTRT officers said they were getting no useful information.

“One individual was referred to secondary inspection six times in 1 month,” the inspector general’s report said. He’d been flagged supposedly for information about someone else, but the report said “there is no evidence” he was ever asked about this person. “During the second inspection, the individual was handcuffed to a bench, possibly for several hours, until the TTRT officers arrived for an interview,” the report continued.

Another U.S. citizen was flagged four times between December 2018 and January 2019 even as officials “did not obtain any new or different information,” the report said. This individual eventually stopped crossing in order to avoid continued harassment. “The individual told us that he became nervous and lost sleep in anticipation of secondary inspection,” the report said. “He eventually decided to stop crossing the border to avoid additional inspections, which prevented him from visiting family and friends, and from providing humanitarian assistance to migrants.” Once again, humanitarian aid is not a crime.

Additionally, the inspector general’s report said that CBP “inappropriately” asked Mexican officials to turn back more than a dozen U.S. citizens. “CBP may restrict Americans’ rights to travel internationally in certain circumstances, but CBP could not articulate any genuine basis for sending this request and in fact later admitted that the reasons provided to Mexico were not true,” the report said. Folks, some of us call that “lying.” As in, immigration officials lied.

“Based on our review of all available evidence, we were unable to determine why CBP did not remove unnecessary caravan-related lookouts,” the DHS OIG report said. “We found no direct evidence that CBP kept lookouts active to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against caravan associates.” That just tells me investigators didn’t conduct a thorough probe for whatever reason, because rampant retaliation has been documented at the other federal immigration enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It’s a charge ICE consistently denies. But advocates say there’s a growing body of evidence that can’t be ignored,” NPR reported in August. In one email targeting immigrant activist Maru Mora-Villalpando, ICE officials described her and others as “instigators of all the turmoil” for actions protesting a notorious detention center in the state. ICE wrote that throwing her “into proceedings might actually take away some of her ‘clout.’” In a huge victory, Mora-Villalpando is currently on a path to legal status.

“All four CBP officials who sent information to Mexican officials about Americans told us they communicated with their Mexican counterparts using WhatsApp. None of the four officials retained all their relevant WhatsApp messages,” the DHS OIG continued, saying CBP’s failure to retain these messages “likely violated DHS and CBP records retention policies.” Roughly a year ago, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also found CBP illegally spent emergency humanitarian funds meant for food and medical care for detained migrants on a canine program, dirt bikes, and computer network upgrades. 

Accountability? Ha. That’s for you and me. ICE and CBP instead continue to get billions in funding. “Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, the federal government has spent an estimated $333 billion on the agencies that carry out immigration enforcement,” the American Immigration Council said last year.

Bing Guan, one of the photojournalists who sued the federal government in 2019 after being harassed at the southern border, said that a U.S. officer in plainclothes badgered him in a windowless room for an hour, demanding he reveal if he “knew smugglers, activists, or journalists who assisted migrants in crossing the border,” and at one point spewed, “I know you’ve been around the migrant caravan.” Immigration attorney Taylor Levy told ProPublica in May that she was asked about her religious beliefs, and “remembers an agent asking her why she worked for a Catholic aid organization if she didn’t believe in God.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Biden administration’s family reunification task force “said it is difficult to know how many children remain separated from their parents due to poor record-keeping,” CBS News reported. “She estimated the total could be more than 1,000.” Is this also destined to end up in another report followed by no accountability? 

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