The US government is tracking people who oppose its unlawful and inhuman practices. In February of 2019, I filed Communiques with UN Special Rapporteurs, asking for their intervention with the US government. UN human rights mechanisms are a last resort, utilized when a person’s own government is harming them, and refuses requests for transparency about their abuses of power. The Commmuniques I filed alleged that the US government is abusing law enforcement and international security databases for the purpose of harassing, threatening and preventing the travel of immigrant rights defenders. The Communiques alleged 37 separate accounts of the US government stopping, detaining, interrogating, harassing, libeling and searching and copying the electronic devices of immigration lawyers, advocates and journalists.
In March of 2019, outlets broke the news that the US government is, indeed, tracking and keeping lists of immigration activists. NBCNews published a “list,” allegedly leaked by someone within US Customs and Border Protections, showing photos and information about at least 30 immigration activists, lawyers and journalists. Other news outlets followed with similar stories. But these are certainly not the only “lists” being kept by the government, as most of the people in the Communiques were not in the leaked list. In fact, the same week in March yet another story broke, stating that the US government was tracking, photographing and creating lists of protesters at rallies.
It should be unfathomable that the US government would be permitted to use databases designed to keep the nation secure and to prevent and thwart international organized crime for the illegitimate purposes of chilling the speech and the activities of people who opposes its unlawful practices. But this is where we are. The lawyers listed in the Communiques, who used this international mechanism in order to shed light on these otherwise hidden government abuses of power, had two things in common – they worked to assist immigrants, and they had filed lawsuits against the US government. One of these attorneys had received multiple security clearances, with more than one federal agency. The idea that this particular lawyer suddenly posed a risk to US national security by virtue of assisting immigrants or filing lawsuits to defend the constitution is absurd.
The outrageous abuse of power inherent in these actions should terrify every person interested in upholding the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of our constitutional democracy and its institutions. But even if that does not bother you, the utter waste of resources should. If DHS is busy harassing and interrogating us, who is looking for the real threats to national security?
Professor Dina Haynes teaches Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, Refugee and Asylum Law, and the Law Addressing Human Trafficking. She serves as the director of the New England Law Boston’s Immigration Law concentration.