ACLU Sues Over Alleged Surveillance, Detention of Immigrant-Aid Workers

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The American Civil Liberties Union today sued a trio of government agencies on behalf of immigration activists who claim they were placed under surveillance and then detained at the U.S.-Mexico border due to their humanitarian work on behalf of immigrants.

``The government's targeting of plaintiffs is the product of a secret investigative program designed to monitor these humanitarian workers, target them for detention and interrogation and impede their ability to travel,'' according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in downtown Los Angeles.

The suit was filed on behalf of Noral Phillips, co-founder of the Los Angeles nonprofit immigrant-services organization Al Otro Lado; Erika Pinheiro, co-founder of Al Otro Lado; and Nathaniel Dennison, a documentary filmmaker and shelter volunteer.

ACLU officials claim the government agencies -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the FBI -- conspired to spy on the activists and put alerts on their passports, causing them to be interrogated, detained and sometimes denied the ability to cross the border.

``Not only is this administration going after refugees and migrants, it's going after the helpers too,'' Phillips said in a statement released by the ACLU. ``I'm just trying to do my job.''

There was no immediate response from the federal government.

According to the lawsuit, the ``covert operation'' targeting humanitarian workers was uncovered in March by reporters at NBC7 in San Diego, prompting an internal investigation by CBP's inspector general. According to NBC, Department of Homeland Security officials claimed in March that the individuals in question were targeted as part of a probe into violence at the border that erupted late last year when a migrant caravan arrived.

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs were ``singled out and targeted solely because of their protected speech and association, including their provision of legal counsel to asylum seekers, their association with others providing humanitarian aid and the assistance they provided to clients seeking to redress or to express themselves publicly.''

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