“ONE DAY LAST SPRING, Sarah Silva drove north on Interstate 25 out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with her boyfriend, Heath Haussamen, sitting in the passenger’s seat. They stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint — nothing unusual for the two, who live roughly 50 miles from Mexico. ‘We’re surrounded by militarized checkpoints,’ Haussamen says. But he didn’t expect what happened next.”
So begins an article published Friday by Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) — a trade publication from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York — about reporting in the borderlands.
The article goes on to detail an experience Haussamen, the editor and publisher of NMPolitics.net, and his girlfriend Silva had at a U.S. Border Patrol interior checkpoint in 2016. An agent “intimidated and berated [Silva] until she was shaking and near tears,” Haussamen wrote about the experience. “Sitting next to Sarah, I felt powerless to stop it.”
“Haussamen, who operates a local news website, took the incident as a personal affront,” journalist Karen Coates wrote for CJR. The article goes on:
The checkpoint episode was also a professional wake-up call for Haussamen. As editor and publisher of NMPolitics.net, based in Las Cruces, Haussamen grew concerned for his colleagues. “Journalists are no different than other citizens in these situations,” he says, except they often store sources’ contact information and confidential correspondence on phones, laptops, and notebooks at a time when electronic devices are increasingly subject to searches. When government agents search a journalist, not only is his or her own privacy violated — so is the privacy of any source whose information is stored on that journalist’s phone or computer.
The article highlights recent efforts by Haussamen and the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter — for which Haussamen serves as a board member — to equip journalists to prepare for such situations. Haussamen and SPJ teamed up with the ACLU to hold a training for journalists on March 25 in Las Cruces.
“It was the first such training — anywhere — involving the ACLU and journalists’ border rights,” the CJR article states. “Haussamen hopes to have several more, in addition to off-the-record meetings between journalists and border agents to speak frankly about the law and its interpretations. Also in the works from SPJ Rio Grande: a potential video and ‘know-your-rights literature’ for journalists in border regions.”
“Now is a good time for journalists to really do some hard thinking,” ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who helped conduct the training in Las Cruces, was quoted by CJR as saying.
The article is full of insight and good suggestions for journalists and others. Read it here.