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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: migrant caravan

Trump Used Secret Terrorism Unit To Harass Lawyers And Journalists At Border

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Taylor Levy couldn't understand why she'd been held for hours by Customs and Border Protection officials when crossing back into El Paso, Texas, after getting dinner with friends in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in January 2019. And she didn't know why she was being questioned by an agent who'd introduced himself as a counterterrorism specialist.

Levy was part of the legal team representing the father of a girl who'd died the previous month in the custody of the Border Patrol, which is part of CBP. "There was so much hate for immigration lawyers at that time," she recalled. "I thought that somebody had put in an anonymous tip that I was a terrorist."

The truth was more troubling. Newly released records show that Levy was swept up as part of a broader than previously known push by the administration of President Donald Trump to use the federal government's expansive powers at the border to stop and question journalists, lawyers and activists.

An email shows agents being instructed to flag lawyers Taylor Levy and Héctor Ruiz coming through U.S. ports of entry, noting "subjects are suspected of providing assistance" to the caravan. Credit: Obtained by ProPublica via Santa Fe Dreamers Project


The records reveal that Levy and attorney Héctor Ruiz were interrogated by members of CBP's secretive Tactical Terrorism Response Team. The lawyers were suspected of "providing assistance" to the migrant caravan that was then the focus of significant attention by the administration and right-wing media. Officials speculated in later reports that immigration lawyers were seeking to profit by moving migrants through Mexico, and that "Antifa" may have been involved.

The records were provided to ProPublica by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a public interest law firm and advocacy group that received them after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the stops of Levy and Ruiz at the border in El Paso.

Following revelations two years ago by NBC 7 San Diego that some journalists and others were targeted for questioning when crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, the Trump administration maintained that the incidents were limited to San Diego and a handful of U.S. citizens. But the new documents prove the operation went further — and raise questions about how many others were targeted.

While the records are heavily redacted, they provide a window into exactly how the targeting worked. They also show that the push was based in part on claims that were simply wrong — for example, that Levy met with members of the caravan in Mexico while they were traveling towards the border.

"This whole thing is COINTELPRO for dummies," said Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to a notorious domestic spying program from decades ago. Tajsar is representing some of the San Diego activists who were stopped. An "intel-gathering apparatus was shared and deployed through a number of different agencies and resulted in a dragnet that ensnared a whole bunch of people."


A page on Levy from a Customs and Border Protection database with a handwritten note made about an officer called to her interrogation. Credit: Obtained by ProPublica via Santa Fe Dreamers Project

Responding to questions from ProPublica, a CBP spokesperson said in a statement: "In response to incidents in November 2018 and January 2019, which included assaults against Border Patrol Agents, CBP identified individuals who may have information relating to the instigators and/or organizers of these attacks. Efforts to gather this type of information are a standard law enforcement practice." The statement does not address the targeting of Levy and Ruiz or what role investigators suspected two lawyers in El Paso of playing in attacks on federal agents that were in San Diego.

The administration of President Joe Biden is continuing to fight several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration over the operation. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general promised to investigate the allegations in 2019, as the CBP spokesperson noted to ProPublica, but it has not published its findings. The current head of U.S. Border Patrol is a career agent who was in charge of the San Diego sector when agents there were helping lead the surveillance effort.

Neither Levy nor Ruiz were told why they were being questioned. What they were asked about didn't give them many clues. Both were questioned about their activities in Mexico — specifically, if they had been to Tijuana recently. They were questioned about their jobs and educational backgrounds; Ruiz was asked about the funding of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, where they work as an attorney.

Both lawyers also recall being asked about their beliefs. Levy remembers an agent asking her why she worked for a Catholic aid organization if she didn't believe in God, while Ruiz told ProPublica they were asked about their opinions of the Trump administration and the economy. Government notes of their interviews provided as part of the suit don't reference those questions, but they do cite comments from both Levy and Ruiz criticizing Trump's border policies.

Ruiz ultimately agreed to a phone search, despite their concerns about agents reading privileged attorney-client communications, which is exactly what the agents did. The records note the use of WhatsApp to communicate with people described as "foreign national" — Ruiz's clients.

Ruiz didn't tell anyone about their late-night interrogation for weeks after it happened. When they learned the same thing had happened to Levy, and when the NBC 7 story appeared two months later showing that similar episodes in San Diego had been part of a deliberate targeting effort, the El Paso lawyers sought to find out if they had been on the same watchlist. So Ruiz's then-colleague Allegra Love filed a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a lawsuit.

This spring, they finally got a complete-enough set of documents to piece the truth together.

In late November 2018, writing up an interview with a migrant who'd traveled with the "caravan," San Diego-area border agents identified Levy and Ruiz as two of "three attorneys/legal assistants that most likely traveled to meet with the caravan." The redacted notes leave it unclear whether the migrant identified the two by name, or whether agents made the connection on their own. Either way, by the time that email was forwarded to San Diego's Border Intelligence Center, the two were identified as "ASSOCIATED TO THE MIGRANT CARAVAN DEC 2018."

In fact, Levy had not only never met with people in the caravan, colleagues recall she'd vocally criticized the caravan at the time. Ruiz had conducted some legal workshops for caravan migrants weeks before their arrival in Tijuana, when they'd been staying in a soccer stadium in Mexico City. Ruiz and Love told ProPublica they had encouraged migrants with tenuous asylum claims not to attempt to come to the U.S. and didn't have any further involvement with the group.

According to emails obtained in the lawsuit, agents were instructed to flag Levy and Ruiz (as well as three others whose information is redacted) in the system for screening people coming through U.S. ports of entry.

When Ruiz came back to El Paso after a night out in Ciudad Juarez in December, and when Levy returned from that January dinner, the port officer checking their passports saw an alert that they should be interrogated by a member of CBP's Tactical Terrorism Response Team.

The team's stated mission is to stop suspected foreign terrorists from entering the country. But the government has expanded powers at the border that allow it to stop and question civilians entering the U.S. Records produced in an ongoing ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the unit have shown that its members frequently question American citizens. (CBP did not respond to questions about the role of the terrorism teams.)

What exactly the interrogations of Levy and Ruiz were trying to uncover still isn't clear. Levy and Ruiz both got the impression that they were being accused of "coaching" asylum-seekers to lie to border agents. The newly disclosed records don't include anything about that, at least not in the unredacted text, but they do say that Ruiz "admitted to facilitating the migrant caravan by providing legal guidance free of charge and educate the migrant's with the Asylum process."

The accusation that telling asylum-seekers about how U.S. law works is "facilitating" their entry reflected a broader suspicion that asylum-seekers were trying to subvert U.S. law rather than accessing a legal right. One Border Patrol email from the San Diego side of the targeting operation, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by NBC 7 and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and shared with ProPublica, referred to crossing the border to claim asylum as exploiting "a loophole."

A Border Patrolintelligence reportfrom El Paso, written several months after Levy and Ruiz were interrogated and included in the newly released documents, cast further aspersions on asylum lawyers. The report states, "Mass migration from South America into the United States is said to be coordinated at some level by non profit organizations who wish to line their pockets with proceeds deriving from migrants transportation fees up to the U.S Mexico border, and ultimately proceeds deriving from the migrants paying for their asylum case lawyers once they have arrived to the United States." It goes on to associate this effort with "other groups such as Antifa."

The report also asserts, inaccurately, that Levy and Ruiz were "seen in Tijuana assisting with the migrant caravan."

Now that the lawyers know more about why they were stopped — and by whom — they are all the more concerned it could happen again. Levy has since moved to California but told ProPublica she fears retaliation for this article.

Ruiz still crosses the border multiple times a week for work. "I'm still super fearful," they told ProPublica. "I don't know if this is the day they're going to detain me again." The caravans and Trump are both gone, but "I'm still doing this work. And I don't know what sort of false accusations they can throw going forward."

Trump’s Mythical Migrant ‘Caravan’ Is Heading Our Way Again

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

GOP lawmakers are renewing the xenophobic claim that "caravans" of immigrants are making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to invade the country, seizing on recent news of a rumored group of immigrants supposedly making their way to the United States from Central America.

On Monday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei declared a "state of prevention" in response to rumors, which first began circulating on anti-immigrant sites in February, of one potential caravan, which was said to be approaching the Guatemalan border from Honduras. As Reuters reported, a few hundred Hondurans were indeed set to travel to the Guatemalan border on their way to the United States, but that group had been mostly dispersed by Tuesday.

Republicans have pounced on the opportunity to link the various groups to President Joe Biden.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) went on the offense, tweeting on March 25, "Reporter: 'What will you do to stop incentivizing illegal immigrants?' Biden: 'A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.' What is that? The slogan for the Biden caravan from Guatemala?"

Biden was actually quoting a proverb from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who taught that long, arduous journeys or tasks must all begin with simple but meaningful actions.

Then, on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted, "The Biden Border Crisis is creating chaos and threatening the borders of multiple countries," linking to an Associated Press article about Guatemala's announcement.

Cotton was using news of the caravan to push the narrative of a "crisis" at the border caused by the Biden administration and its reversal of Donald Trump's harsh immigration policies. Researchers have said there is no evidence of such a crisis or that Biden's decisions led to it.

Other Republicans have been revamping the anti-immigrant "caravan" talking point to push the border "crisis" narrative.

Sen. Ron Johnson tweeted on March 8, "A caravan a day. Those are the numbers we are seeing right now at the border. We do not have the facilities to handle this. This is the tip of the iceberg of a crisis caused by President Biden's policies."

"I fear that we will soon see caravan after caravan again forming in the Northern Triangle countries and headed toward the United States," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted similarly on March 9.

Experts say the racist myth of a "caravan" invading the United States is not rooted in reality but is mostly a xenophobic talking point meant to fear-monger about immigrants more broadly.

"This vitriol against the caravan of Central Americans and Mexicans on their way to the U.S. border was cruel electioneering, no more," anthropologist and researcher J.P. Linstroth wrote in a 2018 op-ed, when Republicans first began rolling out the "caravan" narrative ahead of the midterm elections. "These people are poor and are fleeing horrific violence in their home countries."

Linstroth noted that U.S. intervention in civil wars in Central America during the 1980s had caused instability in the region that carries on to this day.

Furthermore, he said, immigrants often travel in caravans simply as a form of protection.

"Traveling in numbers makes the journey safer for these migrants. Often migrants are commonly victims of real threats of violence along the way — murder, rape, and robbery," Linstroth said.

In a phone interview, Leo Chavez, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, further underscored the extreme risks immigrants face on the journey from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"You become commodities for people who want to take advantage of you," he said, noting threats of theft, sexual assault, and kidnapping were common realities for those making the trek.

Chavez said traveling in a caravan gave immigrants safety in numbers.

"Unfortunately, because they do that as a way to protect themselves, the image that's created, that's usable and weaponizable is that it becomes a metaphor for a whole bunch of people moving towards the U.S. en masse. And they use it like an invasion," he said.

Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans and Trump employed the "caravan" rhetoric as part of the tactic to scare voters. At the time, they presented a message of impending doom, claiming in racist terms that such an "invasion" would overtake the country.

The broader electorate ultimately rejected that xenophobic fear-mongering: Republicans lost 40 seats in the House and the majority in that chamber that year.

Following the elections, mentions of the caravans died down, only resurfacing again briefly in 2020, ahead of the presidential election and amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

SNL Cold Open Features Migrant Caravan Panic On Fox

Returning live this week without Alec Baldwin, the SNL cold open brings us borderline hysteria on Fox News Channel, with the wonderful Kate McKinnon as frothing host Laura Ingraham.

She joins us “live from the Arizona border, where a vicious caravan of dozens, maybe millions of illegal immigrants is headed straight for you and your grandchildren.”

Ingraham quickly introduces the even loonier Judge Jeanine Pirro (marvelously parodied by Cecily Strong), who presents exclusive footage of the migrant caravan that looks suspiciously like Black Friday shoppers bursting into a department store.

“Who is in this caravan?” inquires Ingraham.

“Everyone you’ve ever seen in your nightmares, Laura,” barks Pirro. “Guatemalans, Mexicans, ISIS, the Menendez brothers, the 1990 Detroit Pistons, Thanos, and several Babadooks.” And of course plenty of menacing Middle Easterners, who flew over to Guatemala with their elephants disguised as “service animals,” which they “rode straight into Mexico.”

She shows frightening footage from the 2013 zombie film World War Z as proof of the imminent Central American swarm. “Is that Brad Pitt?” asks Ingraham. “Yes, that’s right” replies Pirro. “We believe he’s actually dating the caravan, which people have labeled Bradavan.”

“That’s top-notch reporting, Jeanine!”

How can we disagree? Just click for the full SNL cold open.

Danziger: Borderline Personality

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

#EndorseThis: On Trump’s Caravan Of Lies, “There’s No Proof Of Anything”

When Stephen Colbert reviews the latest Trump effusions, he often goes a little deeper. Like when the president, in defending his demagogic uproar about that “caravan” in Central America, warned that suspicious characters of “Middle Eastern” origin were infiltrating across the border.

Citing his own supposed contacts with the Border Patrol, Trump said they had intercepted “wonderful people from the Middle East and some bad ones. They’ve intercepted wonderful people from South America. And from other parts, further south.”

This puzzles both Stephen and bandleader Jon Batiste. Further south than South America? “Oh my God!” exclaims the host. “Did Border Patrol arrest terror penguins?” There’s even photographic proof.

Well, actually, “there’s no proof…there’s no proof of anything,” as Trump ultimately concedes. But that doesn’t stop or even slow him down. He’s promising a tax cut “before November but after the election.”

It’s hilarious that this individual is president. In a very sick way.

Just click.