ACLU files lawsuit against U.S. Border Patrol over harassment of photographers

Lilly Chapa | Newsgathering | News | October 26, 2012

Two photographers whose cameras were confiscated and photos were deleted for taking pictures near customs buldings at the California/Mexico border have sued the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for violating their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, stems from two separate encounters that U.S. citizens had with CPB agents. Environmental activist Ray Askins, who lives in Mexicali, Mexico, was on the U.S. side of the border taking pictures of a port of entry building in May. He was taking the photos from a city street about 50 yards away from the building when CPB agents allegedly detained him, threatened to smash his camera and deleted the pictures.

Two years prior, human rights activist Christian Ramirez was crossing into Tijuana when he saw male CBP agents patting down women at the border. He took out his phone and started taking pictures from a sidewalk across from the checkpoint and was quickly detained by CBP officials who confiscated his phone and deleted the photos he had just taken.

Askins contacted border officials after his encounter with CBP agents and was told that visitors are prohibited from taking pictures at CBP-controlled facilities without permission from senior officials.

The lawsuit argues that CPB’s policy of prohibiting photography near agency facilities violates the First Amendment.

San Diego ACLU legal director David Loy said in a statement on the ACLU’s website that the border is not a Constitution-free zone.

“Apart from the inherent First Amendment right to take pictures of things happening in public, there’s a particularly strong First Amendment interest in holding government accountable,” Loy said in the statement. “It’s an outrage that any law enforcement agency, but especially a federal agency, is so resistant to having their public actions documented.”