Manhattan Pastor Sues U.S. Government After She Was Put on Watch List for Working With Immigrants

Rev. Kaji Douša in Tijuana.
Credit: Max Rivlin Nadler

A pastor, who was put on a watch list by US authorities following her work with immigrants who traveled to the border in a caravan, filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging her rights were violated.

Rev. Kaji Douša, senior pastor of the Park Avenue Christian Church in Manhattan, alleges that the government’s surveillance, detention, and interrogation as a result of being placed in the database following her ministry with immigrants and asylum-seekers violated her First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Under this type of system of surveillance nobody is safe, nobody gets to question, nobody gets to dissent,” Douša told BuzzFeed News. “I’m the nobody for now and that’s easy because I’m a black woman and we’re always the testing group, but I’m going to come out stronger because I have a great case.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

Douša has been ministering with and helping immigrants for years, first as a pastor in a church 20 miles from the border in La Mesa, California. She continued working with the immigrant community from her Park Avenue church in New York and cochairs the New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based network advocating for immigrant rights.

Her work with New Sanctuary has involved accompanying immigrants who have immigration court dates and ICE check-in appointments. She’s also participated in immigration protests and prayer vigils.

More recently, during her time in Tijuana this year and in 2018, Douša prayed with immigrants, helped oversee 17 wedding ceremonies with other religious leaders, and counseled people who were in the caravan.

When she crossed back into San Diego on Jan. 2, Douša was sent to secondary inspection by a Customs and Border Protection agent. She was then held for several hours in a back room at the San Ysidro official border crossing and questioned about her work with immigrants.

A US officer asked Douša whether she encouraged asylum-seekers to lie on applications and if she was involved in illegal activity.

“They interrogated her about her motives. They interrogated her about her associations. They revealed to Pastor Douša that they had collected detailed information about her and her pastoral work. And they revoked the access she had previously been granted to expedited border crossing,” the complaint states.

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SOURCE: Buzzfeed News, Adolfo Flores