The solution reaffirms the right to film and photograph at the border. But the sign is not clear

The solution reaffirms the right to film and photograph at the border.  But the sign is not clear
The solution reaffirms the right to film and photograph at the border. But the sign is not clear

Christian Ramírez and his wife were returning from Mexico through the San Ysidro port of entry when they saw border agents slap the female travelers.

Ramírez, a longtime border activist, instinctively pulled out his phone and began taking pictures. But he was quickly stopped by private security on the pedestrian bridge and shortly afterward was surrounded by a group of Customs and Border Protection agents. They confiscated his phone and deleted all the photos he took on the bridge, according to court records.

The 2010 incident became the basis of a First Amendment lawsuit challenging government restrictions on filming and photography near official border crossings. A decade later, after two dismissals and federal appeals failures, the case was finally settled, forcing CBP to recognize the right of individuals to record activity in public spaces.

“Just to show how long this has gone on… The electronic device he was carrying at the time was a Blackberry, so that tells you it’s been going on for years,” said Ramirez, director of human rights for the San Diego Alliance. Recently. he said in an interview. “But well worth it.”

A 2020 legal agreement between the ACLU and CBP says the agency can no longer restrict people from taking pictures and photographs outside US land ports of entry, but local activists say new signs are required at the border between the US and Mexico under the terms of the agreement enough to highlight this big change.

San Diego border activist Christian Ramirez was the plaintiff in a lawsuit that was ultimately settled in which border officials acknowledged they would not interfere with the public by taking photographs or filming in areas generally accessible by land ports of entry. He was stopped at the San Ysidro port of entry in 2010, and his photo was deleted from his phone after police officers were caught slapping female travelers.

(Nancee E. Lewis/San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I would say there are always First Amendment rights at ports of entry, but the federal government refuses to recognize First Amendment rights, and the agreement forces them to do so,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, a former US citizen with the Litigation Project. Border that handles the case. Independent lawyer. Her work focuses on identifying, documenting, and prosecuting alleged human and civil rights violations along the US-Mexico border.

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The agreement states that CBP “will not impede, obstruct, or interfere with the First Amendment rights of the public to take and retain photographs, video recordings, or other records of events or incidents from public areas at any land port. Entry into the United States, unless (the agreement) allows it.”

Signs posted outside the San Ysidro Pedestrian Bridge are less direct and include language stating that “written permission from an authorized officer” may be required in certain circumstances, such as restricted areas. However, Ebadolahi emphasized that the federal regulations referenced in the sign do not replace the Solution or the First Amendment for the public.

“If you’re outside, in a public area, you have a First Amendment right to take pictures and record,” Ebadolahi explained, clarifying that you don’t need any special written permission. Restricted areas include indoor areas or areas that can only be accessed when in transit.

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Border environmentalist and another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Ray Askins, sent a photo of the Calais border crossing to the Union Tribune on Tuesday, which he said showed some old signs still in place. Posted and falsely reflects outdated language prohibiting filming at the border without prior permission.

A sign at the San Ysidro port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border says people can take pictures “by permission only,” which border activists said was not enough to highlight an agreement that CBP can no longer restrict people from filming and taking photos outdoors. California ports of entry.

(Wendy Fry/San Diego Union-Tribune)

“CBP did not take this agreement seriously, changing the wording on some signs while others remained the same,” Askins said. “I have mixed feelings knowing that there is no meaningful agreement. Violation of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment.”

Askins was concerned about vehicle emissions at the border crossing and wanted to take photos of the vehicle inspection area at the Calexico port of entry in April 2012 for a presentation at the conference.

He called CBP and, according to court documents, was told his request was “inconvenient.”

He ended up taking three or four photos at an intersection near the port before CBP officials asked him to delete them, the suit says.

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When he refused, officials threatened to break his camera, then handcuffed him, confiscated his camera and held him in the port inspection area, court documents show. He was released about a half hour after CBP removed all but one photo of him.

Some of the signs posted in Calexico have conflicting language and are confusing, Askins said. Attorney Ebadolahi said the wording of the sign was not ideal, but more needed to be done to educate the public about their rights.

“These signals cannot be definitive,” he added.

In response to questions about the sign and the terms of the agreement, a CBP spokesperson released a statement saying: “Customs and Border Protection made changes to the sign in February 2021 as part of the agreement. CBP also notified its employees of the terms of the agreement. , including that, except as otherwise provided in the settlement agreement, they must not interfere with video or audio recordings of the outdoor public areas of our land ports.”

Activists and legal experts say the deal could have far-reaching effects, either by documenting or preventing potential police abuse, or by ruling that the federal government cannot create special rules that challenge constitutional rights in some undefined areas.

The problem predates smartphones, when border agents didn’t tell people to delete footage, but instead tore up video tapes and camera rolls that activists or journalists saw documenting activity in border areas. entry ports. On at least one occasion that wasn’t part of a lawsuit, private security had a reporter read aloud a sign saying you couldn’t be photographed.

Activists and legal experts point to the case of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, who was deported to Mexico in 2010, as a symbol of lethal danger. Part of the arrest was captured on video by nearby witnesses.

“They claim he has been resisting, he has been violent, he is a threat to officers and officers,” Ebadolahi said, before the video shows them tied up, he is upside down and they are on and on. I tried it everywhere and he died of a heart attack. Outrageous. “

In 2017, a federal judge approved the US government’s proposal to pay Hernandez-Rojas’ children $1 million to settle the lawsuit.

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