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A Secret US Government List Targeting Journalists And Activists Is Under More Expansive Investigation

"Government surveillance that targets journalists, individuals providing legal services to migrants ... is absolutely unacceptable," Sen. Tom Udall said.

Last updated on August 7, 2019, at 1:47 p.m. ET

Posted on August 7, 2019, at 1:06 p.m. ET

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

US Border Patrol agents stand in front of a secondary fence in San Diego, looking across the border wall toward Mexico.

The US government's creation of a database that resulted in reporters, attorneys, and advocates being questioned at the border is under a more expansive investigation than previously reported.

An investigation into whether immigration officials had violated policies when they created the list was announced by Customs and Border Protection in March. But a July 15 letter to Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico from Jennifer Costello, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency is also investigating allegations of harassment faced by people on the database and whether CBP complied with US laws.

In the letter, Costello said a team of investigators, analysts, and attorneys are looking into the list, which was leaked to San Diego's NBC affiliate.

"We plan to review the leaked ... document in order to determine why it was created, what it is used for, and what happened to the people named in it," Costello said in the letter, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News. "We also anticipate reviewing other specific allegations of targeting and/or harassment of lawyers, journalists, and advocates, and evaluate whether CBP's actions compiled with law and policy."

Ramon Espinosa / AP

In March it was revealed that US immigration officials had compiled a secret database containing information on dozens of reporters, attorneys, and activists that resulted in them being questioned at the southern border when they tried to cross.

The database of 10 journalists, at least one US attorney, and 47 others who were listed as "organizers" or "instigators" contained passport pictures and notes on whether each individual had been arrested or interviewed. Many of them were US citizens.

The documents obtained by NBC were reportedly part of a computer application that was shared with officials working in CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, and agents with the FBI's San Diego field office.

The letter comes after Sens. Udall, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Richard Blumenthal demanded answers to reports of the database and the subsequent questioning of people on it by US border authorities.

"Government surveillance that targets journalists, individuals providing legal services to migrants, or critics of the Trump administration’s immigration policies is absolutely unacceptable and flies in the face of our most deeply held Constitutional rights and principles," Udall said in a statement.

Attempting to dissuade groups and people from exercising their First Amendment rights or providing legal support to immigrants violates the Constitution, Udall said.

"The American people expect DHS to help keep our communities safe from violent attacks, not keep lists of journalists and attorneys to harass at legal ports of entry," Udall said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.