According to a leaked secret database seen by NBC 7, US federal agents have targeted a number of activists, journalists and lawyers allegedly linked with the migrant caravan that tried to cross the nation's southern border last year.
Screenshots of the internal documents, leaked by an anonymous official at the Department of Homeland Security, revealed that the government was keeping tabs on at least ten journalists (seven of them from the United States), a US attorney, and 47 people from the US and other countries, flagged as suspected organisers, "instigators" or "associates".
The database reportedly contains their passport photos or pictures from social media accounts. According to the target list, some of them had an alert placed on their passports. It also indicates whether they have been arrested, interviewed, or had their visa or Mexico border pass revoked by officials.
These individuals are believed to be tied with the Central American migrant caravan that reached to the US-Mexico border in November, drawing reporters, lawyers and human rights activists from across the United States.
NBC 7 quoted the DHS source as saying that some of them were flagged for secondary inspections at customs points. Moreover, the agency has allegedly compiled dossiers on each person on the list, which the source described as an overreach by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials.
These dossiers were allegedly used by various law enforcement agencies, including the US Border Patrol and some San Diego FBI agents.
"We are a criminal investigation agency, we're not an intelligence agency," the source was quoted as saying. "We can't create dossiers on people and they're creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemned these intelligence-gathering efforts as an "outrageous violation of the First Amendment" and said it was "exploring all options in response".
A spokesperson for the CBP did not confirm whether the leaked documents were valid or not, but indicated that the agency has stepped up the scrutiny of those entering the country due to the "recent mobilisation" of migrant caravans from Central America.
"Criminal events, such as the breach of the border wall in San Diego, involving assaults on law enforcement and a risk to public safety, are routinely monitored and investigated by authorities," a spokesperson for the CBP said in a statement.
"These activities could result in a more thorough review of those seeking entrance into our country. It is protocol following these incidents to collect evidence that might be needed for future legal actions and to determine if the event was orchestrated."
In a separate statement, the CBP said that the people listed in the database were all present during the outbreak of violence at the US southern border in November.
Back then, hundreds of migrants attempted to cross into the US territory illegally by storming the border fence, with some of them hurling projectiles at police. Authorities resorted to rubber bullets and tear gas to thwart the break-through attempt.
US President Donald Trump branded the migrant caravans as an "invasion" and threatened to detain or turn away the would-be asylum seekers. Trump has repeatedly raised concerns about the situation at the border, describing it as a humanitarian crisis and calling for the construction of a physical barrier on the border to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
After failing to secure the necessary funding for border security in Congress, Trump declared a national emergency last month in a bid to divert funds from elsewhere in the government to build his much-championed border wall.