Journalist Handcuffed by ICE Agents for Photographing U.S. Border

Andrew Meyer

Journalist Handcuffed by ICE Agents for Photographing U.S. Border Fence in New Mexico

Andy Beale’s goal was to create a photo project comparing the fence between the U.S. and Mexico and the wall between Israel and Palestine.

On June 6, 2014, Beale arrived at the Santa Teresa border checkpoint in New Mexico with a friend to take pictures of the fence. As Beale started taking pictures, a Federal Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) officer drove up and asked Beale what he was doing, and for identification. ICE agents then escorted Beale and his friend inside the immigration building, and promptly handcuffed the two of them to a bench.

For the next three hours, Beale and his friend waited as ICE officers told them, “They’re on their way, they want to question you.”

Finally, an FBI agent and a Department of Homeland Security officer showed up and handed Beale a copy of federal statute 41 CFR § 102-74.420, which states:

What is the policy concerning photographs for news, advertising or commercial purposes?
Except where security regulations, rules, orders, or directives apply or a Federal court order or rule prohibits it, persons entering in or on Federal property may take photographs of—
(a) Space occupied by a tenant agency for non-commercial purposes only with the permission of the occupying agency concerned;
(b) Space occupied by a tenant agency for commercial purposes only with written permission of an authorized official of the occupying agency concerned; and
(c) Building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.

The government agents claimed that because Beale hoped to sell his photos, he could be charged with a felony for photographing the border fence. The agents then asked Beale to sign a consent form allowing them to search his camera. When Beale refused, he was told, “Well, we’re going to be here for awhile then.”

According to Beale, the DHS agent made a call or a fake-call to discuss what kind of charges they could bring against Beale.

Under the statute handed to Beale by the Federal agents, Beale only violated the law if he took pictures of a “space occupied by a federal agency” with a non-news gathering purpose. Whether Beale actually took photos of “space occupied by a federal agency” is both in legal and factual question, as it is arguable whether the border fence meets the criteria, and unknown if Beale took photos of the building.

In either case, unless there was a specific regulation, rule, order or directive that stated no one is allowed to photograph the area – which none of the federal agents produced – Beale would have been perfectly within his rights if he had been taking pictures for news purposes. Otherwise, the federal agents overstepped their bounds with Beale under the “color of law.”

Under duress of federal charges, and in order to free his friend and avoid being handcuffed any longer, Beale gave his consent to having his camera searched after assurances from the FBI agent that all they wanted to do was see Beale’s photos and delete them. The agents reviewed Beale’s photos and deleted about half of them as an ICE agent said things like “You can see our people in that one. I’d rather they didn’t know how our people are set up.”

After a five hour ordeal that one ICE agent claimed was a “national security issue,” Beale was released. Whether or not Beale unknowingly violated an obscure federal statute, the fact remains that ICE agents handcuffed Beale and his friend to a bench for three hours – one ICE officer claimed “We can look inside you if we want to,” – all because Beale took photos of a fence.  Beale, who has been working as a journalist in the West Bank, said he is used to being hassled by Israeli security but was “shocked to see this level of authoritarianism in the United States.”

Is this a routine incident of officer overkill, or is it related with the ongoing fiasco down at the Border?
Last month, Infowars broke the story that tens of thousands of children are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without parents or guardians, and that these illegal immigrants are being allowed to cross the border by federal border patrol agencies. On June 16, Adan Salazar and Jakari Jackson reported that South Texas church groups were working around the clock to shuttle hundreds of illegal immigrants to housing facilities, while Kit Daniels reported that Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, was being used to shelter these immigrant children.

Daniels was recently threatened with imprisonment by the Department of Defense, which cited a statute preventing Daniels from re-entering the base, although Daniels’ photos were reportedly taken from outside the facility.  In another apparent effort to hinder media coverage of the crossing of thousands of children illegally immigrating from Honduras, Nicaragua, and other parts of Central America, Border Patrol restricted access to the Anzalduas International Bridge and other areas on the border in Texas. While the Border Patrol has left gates wide open and pursued journalists instead of illegal immigrants, Infowars reported that an ICE employee said  many ICE  agents were given temporary paid leave in a de-facto stand down order by the Obama administration. On Tuesday, the White House requested $3.7 Billion in emergency funding to be divided among several government agencies, to address the tens of thousands of children that the government has allowed to cross the United States border.

Ron Zermeno, the Border Patrol agent in charge of Health and Safety for the San Diego Border Patrol Sector,  was issued a cease and desist order from higher ranking officials after speaking to media about the threat of illness resulting from the thousands of immigrant children crossing the U.S. southern border. According to Zermeno, “Every 72 hours we receive 140 children from Texas. In every one of these groups we are seeing some kind of disease or infection.” Ben Swann has reported that over 50,000 immigrant children have crossed the southern border since October, and are being sent to Border Patrol facilities which Zermano says are not equipped for medical care.
So where does that leave us?

Here’s Carlos Miller’s take:

“It’s just contradictory that the country that is supposed to be a bastion of freedom to the world doesn’t allow photography or videography near its borders.
But it’s not surprising considering the corruption down there.
Even the Border Patrol’s internal affairs department has proven to be lawless, so it’s not like you can contact them for anything.
I wonder if anybody has flown any camera drones over the checkpoints.”

For any PINAC reader in a mood to try it, take precautions. Border Patrol agents have been described as “an occupying army.”


For news tips on aerial photography and drones, contact Andrew Meyer, PINAC’s staff writer covering UAV photography, the First Amendment, and more. Follow him on twitter @theandrewmeyer.


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