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Settlement reaffirms right to film and photograph at border. But the signage is less clear

Christian Ramirez had just returned to the United States from Mexico at the port of San Isidro with his wife when they saw male border officials caressing female travelers.

Ramírez, a longtime border activist, instinctively pulled out his cell phone and began taking pictures. However, he was quickly stopped by private security personnel at the footbridge and shortly afterwards he was surrounded by a group of customs and border guards. They confiscated his cell phone and deleted all the pictures he had taken from the bridge, according to court records.

The 2010 incident became the basis for a First Amendment lawsuit that challenged the government’s restrictions on videotaping and photography near official border crossings. Ten years later – and after two dismissals and a federal appeal – the case reached a settlement that forced the CBP to recognize the rights of people to document activity in public places.

“Just to show how long it took … the electronic device I had on me at the time was a Blackberry, so that tells you this has been going on for many years,” said Ramírez, Alliance San Diego’s human rights director. in a recent interview. “But it was worth it.”

The 2020 legal settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the CBP says the agency can no longer restrict people from videotaping and taking pictures outside US land ports, but local activists say new signage is needed in the area. US-Mexico border under terms agreement not enough to highlight substantial change.

Christian Ramirez, a San Diego border rights activist, was suing in an agreement that ended with border guards agreeing not to allow the public to take pictures or film in generally accessible land port areas. He was stopped at the port of entry of San Ysidro in 2010 and his photos were deleted from his cell phone after he photographed male officers caressing female travelers.

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

“I would say that there was always the right of the First Amendment to be registered at the port of entry, but the federal government refused to recognize this right of the First Amendment, and their settlement forces them to do so,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, a former dispute resolution officer. borders. lawyer for the ACLU staff handling the case. Her work focused on identifying, documenting, and prosecuting alleged human and civil rights violations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The settlement clarifies that the CBP “shall not obstruct, obstruct or otherwise interfere with the First Amendment rights of members of the public to make and maintain photographs, video records or other recordings of matters or events in a publicly accessible area. .. in any port land of entry into the United States, except as permitted in (settlement) ».

A sign posted outside a San Ysidro footbridge is less straightforward and includes language that indicates that “written authorization” may be required in some cases, such as in restricted areas. However, the federal regulation mentioned on the sign does not take precedence over the settlement or the First Amendment, as it applies to the public, Ebadolahi stressed.

“If you are outside, in a publicly accessible area, you have the right of First Amendment to take pictures and record,” Ebadolahi explained, adding that you do not need to obtain special written permission. Restricted areas include indoor areas or areas only accessible when crossing the border.

Ray Askins, a border environmentalist and another plaintiff, sent a photo to the Union-Tribune of the Calexico border crossing on Tuesday, which he said shows some of the old signs still hanging and incorrectly reflecting outdated language. filming at the border is prohibited without prior permission.

A sign at the port of entry of San Ysidro on the US-Mexico border

A sign at the port of San Ysidro at the US-Mexico border says people can take pictures “only with permission”, something border activists say is not enough to highlight a settlement agreement that says Customs and Protection Borders can no longer restrict people from filming and taking pictures outside of California’s ports of entry.

(Wendy Fry / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“The CBP did not take this agreement seriously, changing the word on some of the signs and leaving other signs unchanged,” Askins said. “My feelings are mixed, knowing that no real agreement has been reached. “The United States Constitution and the First Amendment have been violated.”

Askins, who is concerned about vehicle emissions at border crossings, wanted to take a photo of a vehicle inspection site in April 2012 at the port of entry in Calexico for a conference presentation.

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

He ended up taking three or four photos from an intersection near the port before CBP officials demanded that he delete the images, the lawsuit said.

When he refused, officers threatened to break his camera and then handcuffed him, confiscated the camera and held him in a port inspection post, according to court documents. He was released about half an hour later after CBP deleted all but one of his photos.

Askins said some of the signs posted on Calexico have conflicting and confusing language. Ebadolahi, the lawyer, said the wording on the signs is not ideal, but more work is needed to educate the public about their rights.

“Signs cannot be the end of everything, they can be everything,” he added.

Asked about the signals and the terms of the settlement, a CBP spokesman said in a statement: “Customs and Border Protection have made the marking changes agreed upon as part of the settlement by February 2021. CBP has also notify its officials of the terms of the settlement, including that, in addition to those provided for in the settlement, they may not interfere with the visual or audio recording in open, publicly accessible areas of our land ports. “

Activists and legal experts say the settlement could have far-reaching implications – both in documenting or preventing possible law enforcement abuses and in finding that the federal government can not enact specific rules in certain undefined constitutional zones .

The issue preceded smartphones, when instead of telling people to delete pictures, border guards smashed videotapes and camera footage of activists or journalists watching activity at port entry points. In at least one case, which is not part of the trial, private security guards had a journalist read aloud a sign that he could not take pictures.

Activists and legal experts point to the case of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, who was fatally beaten and shot with a Taser in 2010 while deported to Mexico, as an emblematic of what is at stake. Witnesses nearby recorded part of the arrest on video.

“They claimed that he was resisting and that he was violent and that he was a threat to the agents and the officers,” said Ebadolahi. dies of a heart attack. It’s so outrageous. “

In 2017, a federal judge upheld a US government proposal to pay $ 1 million to Hernández-Rojas children lawsuit settlement.

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Settlement reaffirms right to film and photograph at border. But the signage is less clear Source link Settlement reaffirms right to film and photograph at border. But the signage is less clear

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