Trump Administration’s Surveillance of Family Separation Protests Follows a Pattern of Harassment

Trump Administration’s Surveillance of Family Separation Protests Follows a Pattern of Harassment

April 29, 2019

WASHINGTON— Newly released government records reveal that the Department of Homeland Security monitored protest preparations across the United States and internationally in June 2018, as communities organized to oppose the Trump administration’s separation of children and parents at the southern border. The discovery follows other recent revelations that the government has been secretly monitoring activists, journalists, and immigrant rights defenders.

The documents include a list disseminated by DHS’s Office on Intelligence and Analysis of more than 600 protests that took place in June 2018, when public horror at children being systematically ripped from their parents became widespread. The lists—compiled for DHS by a private cybersecurity company called “LookingGlass” and shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigative arm—include information such as the Facebook Event ID and the time and location of each protest. The protests took place in churches, town squares, and other community gathering places across the U.S., from Anchorage, Alaska, to Boca Raton, Florida, as well as abroad, in places such as Mexico City and Amsterdam.

The records were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the American Immigration Council, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Women's Refugee Commission, and Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and as a result of subsequent litigation undertaken by the American Immigration Council and the law firm WilmerHale.

Other documents expose DHS’s internal communications regarding the development of public messaging around family separation. The documents indicate that the agency sought to portray family separation as an effort to combat human smuggling and trafficking. The documents also reveal that the agency explored other methods for punishing parents who had already entered the country.

"The documents show an administration preoccupied with monitoring and controlling the public relations fallout of their disastrous family separation policy rather than focusing on reunifying families and mitigating the trauma of separation," said Katie Shepherd, national advocacy counsel at the American Immigration Council. “The American public deserves to know the extent to which the government monitored protesters and other members of the public, including advocates and lawyers who were scrambling to respond to the administration’s zero tolerance policy, locate separated families, and assist with reunification.”

“As people took to the streets to voice outcry over the government stealing children away from their asylum-seeking parents, the Trump administration was monitoring the protests,” said Jesse Franzblau, senior policy analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center. “This chilling revelation follows a growing trend of government surveillance and policing of immigrant communities and targeting of activists and journalists. The new records show that the administration views voices of dissent as a threat to its disinformation campaigns. Congress should be asking questions about why DHS resources were used to target opposition to hateful anti-immigrant policies, rather than respond to legal demands to repair the damage these policies had caused.”

“Family separation was and continues to be a practice creating lasting trauma for the parents and children involved. That federal agencies knew of this trauma and yet chose to disregard it in the name of an abhorrent deterrence strategy is unconscionable,” said Katharina Obser, senior policy advisor for migrant rights at the Women's Refugee Commission. “There is still so much more we need to fully uncover to understand what this administration did and didn’t do to inflict and subsequently address the harm caused by its family separation policies, but these documents re-emphasize that we must hold them to account.”

"KIND is alarmed that the government wasted taxpayer money to track public reactions to the horrific family separation policy, instead of dedicating resources to ensuring every child was immediately reunited with their parent. There should be no question that the American public rejected the cruel treatment of asylum seekers and as a result any policy changes moving forward related to the treatment of children and families seeking protection in the United States should be humane and honor this country's commitment to due process,” said Jen Podkul, senior director of policy and advocacy at Kids in Need of Defense.

These records provide important insight for lawmakers considering the next appointment to head DHS. The revelations also come as Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan prepares to testify before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday, April 30.

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For more information, contact:

Maria Frausto, American Immigration Council, 202 507-7526, mfrausto@immcouncil.org, or

Tara Tidwell Cullen, National Immigrant Justice Center, 312 833-2967, 312 660-1337
ttidwellcullen@heartlandalliance.org.

Media Contact

Royce Murray, Managing Director of Programs
rmurray@immcouncil.org 

Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 
mfrausto@immcouncil.org

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