The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California has filed suit against the federal government on behalf of three immigration activists who allege they were placed on a watch list for their work along the border, according to court papers obtained Wednesday.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, seeks a judge’s ruling that any information allegedly gathered by the government on plaintiffs Nora Elizabeth Phillips, Erika Da Cruz Pinheiro and Nathaniel Garrett Dennison be expunged and that an order is issued to cease spying on them.
A request for comment sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not immediately answered.
According to the suit, beginning in October, the government operation secretly tracked the trio’s movements and actions, allegedly leading to them being harassed and detained at the border. In some cases, they were refused entry to Mexico or forced from that country if already there, according to the ACLU.
“To the Trump administration, compassion is a crime,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “Not content to shut the country’s doors to vulnerable families seeking refuge, the government launched a secret spying program to punish lawyers and activists who dared to provide for the basic welfare of migrants wanting a better life for themselves and their loved ones.”
The three plaintiffs are:
— Nora Phillips, a co-founder of the non-profit organization Al Otro Lado based in Los Angeles that provides legal and mental health services to migrants and immigrants;
— Erika Pinheiro, co-founder of Al Otro Lado, who organizes legal clinics in Tijuana, Mexico; and
— Nathaniel Dennison, a documentary filmmaker, shelter volunteer, and founder of the Through My Eyes foundation.
“Not only is this administration going after refugees and migrants, it’s going after the helpers too,” Phillips said in a statement. “I’m just trying to do my job.”