Border Patrol Still Preventing Photography Despite Pending Lawsuit

A Customs Border Patrol agent tries to grab a photographer’s camera as another agent tries to prevent this photograph (Photo by Jenna Pope).


From the southern American border to the northern American border, the United States Border Patrol has been flexing its federal muscle in trying to crackdown on photographers near checkpoints.

But it is highly questionable as to whether it has the legal grounds to do so.

The latest incident took place this weekend in Massena, New York, where photojournalists were covering a group of protesters  at a port-of-entry into Ontario where photojournalists were covering a group of Mohawk Indians protesting a Canadian bill they say threatens their sovereignty.

At least three photographers were told they were not allowed to cross with the protesters because they had cameras.

According to Jenna Pope:

I do also want to note that US border patrol tried to keep at least three photographers from even going onto the bridge with the Idle No More march today, including myself. We didn’t have to go through customs until we reached the other side of the bridge, but they grabbed us and told us we couldn’t cross the bridge because we’re photographers. I took this photo of border patrol grabbing at another photographer’s camera as they were grabbing at my arm and trying to push me off the bridge. In the end, others with the march surrounded us and told border patrol that we were coming with them, and border patrol finally gave up and let us cross. The sign that’s in the photo says “They carry peace.”

And according to the Watertown Daily Times:

In a tense moment during an otherwise peaceful protest Saturday, Border Patrol officers tried to block two photographers, including a Times photojournalist, from covering the Mohawk march across the Massena-Cornwall International Bridge.

Jason Hunter, the Times staff member, was approaching the bridge alongside the marchers and ignored a demand from a Border Patrol agent to stop. He then was grabbed by a male officer who tried to separate him from the marchers.

A female officer also tried to prevent him from getting near the protest. Defying her, Mr. Hunter lifted his camera and she became incensed, calling out to other officers that her photo was being taken.

Reached later Saturday, Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer Thomas J. Rusert in Buffalo said the officers were following protocol.

“Normally when a photographer would come up, we wouldn’t allow them to take photos,” he said. “Any time media photographers or other photographers are on our property, they need to be escorted.”

This is done to prevent photography of law-enforcement equipment, personnel and techniques, he said.

But the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Border Patrol late last year over two separate incidents that took place at the San Diego checkpoint into Mexico, including one man who had had his groin fondled and photos deleted and another man who had his photos deleted.

According to the ACLU press release:

“The border is not a Constitution-free zone,” said David Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU. “Border agents are not above the law, and the law guarantees our right to hold them accountable by documenting their conduct.”

The suit charges that Ray Askins, a U.S. citizen who lives in Mexicali, and Christian Ramirez, a U.S. citizen who lives in San Diego, were stopped in separate incidents on the U.S. side of the border.

Askins was conducting research for a report about excessive pollution caused by the inspection system at the border for an environmental conference when he was stopped. Several border agents told him they would “smash the camera” if he did not delete photos he took of a secondary inspection area at the Calexico Port of Entry. He was attempting to demonstrate that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not make full and proper use of inspection areas, creating longer delays at the border crossing and thus causing more pollution from emissions of vehicles waiting in line to cross. Askins said that the officers who confronted him behaved aggressively even though Askins was not posing a threat or resisting. He was handcuffed and subjected to an invasive and embarrassing physical search. His camera was confiscated and, when it was returned to him, all but one photograph he had just taken at the port of entry had been deleted.

Ramirez, who works for Alliance San Diego, a nonprofit social justice group that, among other things, monitors human rights issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, had just crossed the border when he observed male CBP agents patting down women. He snapped several photos, because it appeared the agents were only searching women. Immediately, two men who appeared to be private security officers approached him, asked for his personal identification documents, and asked him to stop taking photographs. CBP agents soon appeared, confronted Ramirez and his wife, and asked why he was taking photographs.  When he refused, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent said, “Give me one other reason to take you down.” The officer took the Ramirezes’ passports and his phone, and deleted all the photos Ramirez had just taken.

Read the entire lawsuit here.


About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • Difster

    I just crossed the border at Nogales, AZ and I was rather shocked to read the sign posted that it was not allowed. I should have written down the law it cited but it had been a long wait and it just didn’t occur to me at the time.

    I’m hoping it gets over turned so that next time I come though I can take pictures.

    • Clark

      Even if it does you’ll have agents lying, or “not knowing” or demanding you stop on other grounds, probably “suspicion of drug trafficking.”

  • Roxanne

    We can watch you but you cannot watch us! Surveillance, wars, torture, thoughtcrime…
    I am beginning to wonder if George Orwell was a time traveler visiting from the future.

    • Rob

      I wish he’d told his publisher, “File this under non-fiction. Just wait…. shit’s about to get real”.

  • Uncle Arty

    I don’t know how many times you have to be told if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about. See how that works both ways?

  • JdL

    Typical behavior by criminal government thugs. I’m glad to see citizens pushing back!

  • Difdi

    Things like this make me tempted to get a t-shirt printed with the First Amendment in Arabic, cross the border and give a border patrol agent the finger (while standing on the U.S. side).

    If the border patrol is part of the U.S. government then the constitution restricts them. If they’re not part of the U.S. government, then they have no lawful authority in the first place. Which is it, I wonder?

  • IceTrey

    What i find most disturbing is the willingness of American citizens (the cops) to do such things. I guess every generation has it’s brown shirts.

  • Anony mouse

    I’d like to see the reaction of US CBP being filmed at foreign pre-clearance points such as Canadian airports (where Canadian law still applies) Hmmmm

  • Jim Holmes

    Try border crossings in North Dakota. There they threaten arrest and sending you to a Federal Jail in Minneapolis, Minnesota – while letting you know your vehicle will be towed and impounded in North Dakota and your photo gear probably ‘lost’ or broken while they blame you for causing a confrontation and resisting.
    Thugs with badges – scared of reality. In remote locations like those near Westhope and Dunseith and St. John in North Dakota, there isn’t mueh one can do.