January 2, 2019

Reverend Kaji Douša, a senior pastor at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City, won a case against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for allegedly targeting and surveilling her due to her pastoral services to migrants and refugees.

In 2018, Douša supported the organization of the “Sanctuary Caravan,” a mobile clinic of faith leaders providing pastoral services, such as church-blessed marriage ceremonies and prayer, to migrants seeking asylum in the United States. During this period, the increase in mass border crossings led CBP agencies to enhance patrolling, resulting in an operational plan known as “Operation Secure Line.” The objective of Operation Secure Line was to collect information related to “immigration-related crimes” and generate reports for field agents and other law enforcement officers. Consequently, caravan organizers, including humanitarian aid providers such as activists, lawyers, and journalists, became people of interest.

In December 2018, Pastor Douša traveled to Mexico to conduct her latest round of border ministry. However, upon attempting to return to the United States on January 2, 2019, federal officials detained and interrogated her in a secondary interview before releasing her. She later learned that DHS had targeted her for heightened scrutiny and revoked her clearance for expedited border crossing as part of Operation Secure Line.

In July 2019, Douša filed a lawsuit challenging the surveillance operation for allegedly retaliating against her for providing support to migrants and refugees. This lawsuit came shortly after internal DHS documents were leaked, revealing that Douša was added to a secret blacklist database. It was later confirmed that she was one of at least 51 U.S. citizens tracked by the U.S. government for their proximity to asylum seekers, although there was no public evidence of illicit activities.

On March 21, 2023, a federal court ruled in her favor, concluding that the federal agencies involved had violated her fundamental rights of free exercise and free speech. The court’s decision was based on the finding that a CBP agent had emailed Mexican authorities, falsely claiming that Pastor Douša likely did not have adequate documentation to enter Mexico and should be returned to the United States in retaliation for her ministry to migrants in Mexico.

Devereaux, R. (2022, March 6). A Pastor’s Legal Fight Against CBP Exposes a Reckless Surveillance Operation. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2022/03/06/cbp-border-surveillance-migrant-caravan/

Devereaux, R. (2023, March 28). Pastor Wins Civil Rights Suit Against Trump Administration Border Surveillance. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2023/03/28/dhs-cbp-border-surveillance-kaji-dousa/

Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law – #155 in Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (S.D. Cal., 3:19-cv-01255) – CourtListener.com. (n.d.). CourtListener. Retrieved December 29, 2023, from https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/15889052/155/dousa-v-us-department-of-homeland-security/

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS, ICE

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement, Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers, Misuse of Intelligence Capability

Accountability Status: Lawsuit or Claim Filed

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, Black, Female