On Wednesday, local NBC News reporters Tom Jones, Mari Payton and Bill Feather confirmed what some had suspected but had little to no supporting evidence: the federal government has been tracking and harassing people crossing the border.
That the government has chosen to keep track of journalists, humanitarians and civil rights lawyers — even under this particular regime — is not surprising. Those with power, if left unchecked, will abuse it.
The targets in question share a common behavior in that they frequently travelled across the border into Mexico to document the arrival last year of immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, offer humanitarian aid to the hungry and ill, or provide legal counsel to those who need it. This comes at a time when this country is led by a man who described Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers and has repeatedly demanded billions of dollars for a wall along the southern border.
The Donald Trump administration clearly has an established disregard for people trying to enter the United States from Mexico. It has also vociferously and adamantly denigrated the media for its coverage of his time in office. In addition to those seeking a better life in this country, Trump and his enablers regard as enemies those who tell migrants’ stories or help them. (He has, in fact, called journalists the “enemy of the people.”) So it is not surprising that the Department of Homeland Security maintains a file on people it considers a threat.
It is nonetheless unnerving.
In tracking the movements of journalists and other individuals who are not committing a crime, our government engages in behavior that is reminiscent of drug cartels and despotic regimes, entities that rule through fear and intimidation and that work diligently to keep the truth from the public.
Reporters and activists relayed anecdotally that they felt targeted for hours of interrogation and intimidation whenever they came back from Mexico into the United States. Time and again it felt as if the same people were being pulled out of line and detained. The confirmation that a database of “suspected organizers, coordinators, instigators and media” exists is of little reassurance to those who have been listed. Is it better to be paranoid and wrong or right and targeted?
Undoubtedly there will be those who hear of the list and shrug: If they have done nothing wrong they have nothing to fear, they’ll reason.
But today it’s an honest, unflattering media that is labeled enemy of the people and subjected to unfounded scrutiny. Who is next? Husbands and wives visiting extended family in Tijuana? Church groups visiting Mexico to deliver humanitarian aid? Friends taking in dinner and a Xolos game south of the border?
Members of an opposition political party?
Left unchecked the current government’s list has the potential to be a long one and keep growing. That is chilling.
But not surprising.