Dem calls on Nielsen to end monitoring of reporters, lawyers tied to migrant caravan

Dem calls on Nielsen to end monitoring of reporters, lawyers tied to migrant caravan
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Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border MORE (D-Ore.) is calling on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele Nielsen Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer Four heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE to end a reported watch list of journalists and attorneys involved with one of the migrant caravans at the southern border.

Some people in the database were questioned or had their passports flagged, according to NBC 7, which first uncovered the government monitoring. 

Merkley decried the list in a letter to Nielsen, saying it was a violation of the First Amendment. 

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"This program undermines our constitutionally protected right to free speech and free press, and must end immediately," he said in the letter. 

He said that the program's title, "San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019 Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media," suggests that the government "is engaged in a secret investigation targeting at least 59 individuals because of their statements, reporting, and other expressions of dissent protected by the First Amendment." 

"Taken together, this program appears to be a coordinated effort to intimidate and harass U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who provide assistance to legal migrant asylum seekers," Merkley's letter continued. 

Merkley will be leading a congressional delegation to Tijuana, Mexico, to investigate that issue as well as others relating to asylum seekers. In his letter, Merkley asked Nielsen several questions including whether any similar lists exist and whether the people on it are considered to be security threats. 

"In response to recent incidents in November 2018 and January of this year, which included assaults against Border Patrol Agents, CBP identified individuals who may have information relating to the instigators and/or organizers of these attacks," Andrew Meehan, CBP's assistant commissioner of public affairs, said in a statement regarding the database.

"CBP does not target journalists for inspection based on their occupation or their reporting," he added.

CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not offer additional comments.

--This report was updated on March 12 at 11:36 a.m. with Meehan's comments.