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Democrats press DHS over use of drone during Minneapolis protests

Democrats press DHS over use of drone during Minneapolis protests
© Greg Nash

A group of House Democrats is pressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the use of a drone to surveil demonstrators during protests in Minneapolis. 

The five Democrats wrote to DHS Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfRubio warns that election interference may ramp up around Election Day 22 state attorneys general oppose proposed Trump immigration rule on foreign students and media Does the US owe amnesty to future illegal immigrants? MORE that they have “grave concern” over the use of drones and armed uniformed officers to “surveil and intimidate” the protesters. They specifically cited a report from May 29 saying that a Predator Drone was circling over Minneapolis.

“The drone that was flown on May 29, 2020, was reportedly also flown far outside the bounds of CBP’s jurisdiction. Federal law authorizes CBP to conduct its missions within a ‘reasonable distance,’ not to exceed more than 100 air miles inland, from an external boundary of the United States,” the lawmakers wrote.

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They also noted that DHS confirmed that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would be deployed to help monitor the burgeoning demonstrations. 

“This news is particularly alarming given that, for almost a year, the Committee has been investigating racist, sexist, and xenophobic comments made by CBP employees in secret Facebook groups. CBP has been obstructing the Committee’s investigation, and CBP employees who made inappropriate and threatening comments may still be on the job and deployed to silence protesters exercising their Constitutional rights,” the lawmakers wrote.

“This Administration has undermined the First Amendment freedoms of Americans of all races who are rightfully protesting George Floyd’s killing," they continued. "The deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and is particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality.”

The lawmakers asked Wolf to provide them a list of jurisdictions where DHS conducted or assisted in conducting surveillance of any protests and if CBP conducted any surveillance or law enforcement activity more than 100 air miles from any external U.S. border.

“The Committee is concerned that DHS is using their resources — including drones and armed uniformed officers — to surveil and intimidate peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department," said an aide to the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. "The Committee is also concerned with which jurisdictions are involved, the cost of all of these efforts, and the legal authority permitting its intervention."

The Trump administration has come under intense scrutiny over the president’s threats to use the military to suppress protests that were sparked after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Jordain Carney contributed.