Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Five American photojournalists who were allegedly tracked, detained and interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security have sued the Trump administration for violating their First Amendment rights.
Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Wednesday against the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the lawsuit claims the U.S. citizens were repeatedly detained at the U.S.-Mexico border and interrogated about their work documenting a caravan of migrants heading north to the United States between November 2018 and January.
"When the government tries to circumvent constitutional protections, we must hold it accountable," the ACLU said in a statement. "No journalist should have to fear government interference for having the persistence, courage and commitment to expose the truth."
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs -- Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana and Ariana Drehsler -- were referred to secondary screening on attempting to enter the United States and questioned about their work, including their knowledge of the identities of certain individuals they photographed.
"This questioning focused on what each plaintiff had observed in Mexico in the course of working as a journalist, and did not relate to any permissible immigration or customs purpose," the suit said.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in New York, the questioning of the five U.S. citizens infringed upon their rights to freedom of speech, association and the press.
"The border officers' questioning of plaintiffs regarding their journalism work and activities would reasonably chill plaintiffs and other journalists from publishing or speaking in a manner that is critical of, or embarrassing to, the U.S. government, out of a fear of being detained and questioned at the U.S. border about their journalism work in the future," the lawsuit said.
In March, documents were leaked that the interrogations were part of a concerted government effort targeting the five photojournalists and others connected to a caravan that President Donald Trump drew attention to when he proclaimed there was a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The documents revealed a database of photos and personal information of the five journalists, including a note saying whether they had been interrogated, the ACLU said, adding three of the photos were crossed out and a fourth had the caption "Pending Encounter."
At that time, Customs and Border Protection spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement that the agency "does not target journalists for inspection based on their occupation or their reporting. CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists."
"Plaintiffs' right to engage in photojournalism on issues of widespread public interest lies at the heart of the First Amendment's protections," the ACLU said in the lawsuit. "Plaintiffs seek to exercise that right without fear of unlawful questioning by the government."
The ACLU is seeking all records retained during the questioning of its clients expunged and to inform the five photojournalists if any information gained during those interrogations were shared with any other government agency.