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By Julia Ainsley
WASHINGTON – Customs and Border Protection has drawn up a list of 59 mostly US journalists, attorneys, and border cross-border lawyers to stop questioning the crossing of the US-Mexican border at the San Diego area checkpoints, and agents have questioned or arrested at least 21 of them, according to documents obtained by NBC station KNSD TV and interviews with people on the list.
Several people on the list confirmed to NBC News that they had been pulled aside at the border after the date, the list was set up and was told that they were part of a "national safety survey".
CBP told NBC News, the names of the list are people who were present during the violence that broke out at the Tijuana border in November, and were questioned that the agency could learn more about what started it.
The list, dated January 9, 2019, is called "San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019 Suspicious Organizers, Coordinators, Initials and Media" and contains images of the 59 people to be stopped. The people on the list were to be pulled aside by customs and border protection agents to question their crossing border between the United States and Mexico to meet or help migrants from the Honduran caravan is waiting for the Mexican side of the border.
The list includes 10 journalists, seven of the US citizens, an American lawyer and others labeled as organizers and "promoters", 31 of whom are US. Symbols on the list show that by the time it was drafted, 12 people had already undergone further questions during border crossings and nine had been arrested.
In some cases, CBPs had also compiled dossiers of individuals using intelligence from Mexican officials, according to the materials obtained by KNSD.
The cover in the list contains a seal with both the American and Mexican flags and was made shortly afterwards The arrival of nearly 5,000 Honduras immigrants at the border of Tijuana-San Ysidro, located in the border patrol San Diego sector.
On November 25, turmoil broke out as some immigrants attempted to cross border checkpoints or scale the barriers after growing frustrated with the long wait to enter the country. CBP officers reacted with tearing gaps as they became aware of the worsening tension between CBP and the frustrated migrants in Tijuana.
In response to a KNSD question on the list, a CBP spokesman said that it is a protocol to "collect evidence that may be necessary for future litigation."
"To determine if the event was orchestrated …, CBP and our law enforcement partners assess these events, follow all leads extracted from collected information, conduct interviews and studies in preparation for and often to prevent future events that may cause further damage to the public, our agents and our economy, "the spokesman told KNSD.
The documents confirm how many people reporting immigration or providing humanitarian aid and legal advice to asylum seekers at the southern border have reported anecdotal. They say CBP is focused on them and increasingly pulls them aside for so-called "secondary screening".
During this screening, journalists and attorneys describe being told that they are being interviewed as part of a national security investigation and that they are to give officers access to their mobile phones. Many do not know their rights as US citizens to refuse to answer such questions or request a lawyer.
An attorney from the list recently stopped at a crossing in the San Diego area, Nicole Ramos, Refugee Director for Al Otro Lado, a legal center for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, learned from NBC News that CBP had drafted a dossier of information about her. The dossier included personal details such as her mother's name, her social media photos, the car she is driving and her work and travel history.
"The document … seems to prove what we have assumed for some time, which is that we are on a law enforcement list designed to reciprocate against human rights defenders working with asylum seekers who are critical of CBP practices who violates the rights of asylum seekers, "Ramos said.
Two other immigration lawyers who often travel to northern Mexico to help asylum seekers trying to cross into the United States say that practice is starting to scare away would be voluntary.
"It has a real cooling effect on people who might come down there. I was going to go this week, but I had to worry about coming back in [to the U.S.], "a lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity told NBC News.
Other immigration lawyers told NBC News they have been stopped and questioned places far from San Diego. In Juarez, a lawyer was stopped and accused of being a human smuggler. She was only released after the officers took her contacts and data from her phone. She was also asked what she told asylum seekers to say to US authorities, according to another lawyer speaking on her behalf.
A former senior DHS official said it is against US policy to target travelers based on their profession.
"It would be very inappropriate and questionable from a legal point of view," said the former official.
"While it is true that CBP has broad authority to interview and seek someone who crosses the border, if there is no reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity, then they have no right to detain you," added the former official.