Homeland Security Collected Intel on Arizona Family Separation Protests

A shelter for immigrant children on Campbell Avenue in Phoenix run by the government contractor Southwest Key.
A shelter for immigrant children on Campbell Avenue in Phoenix run by the government contractor Southwest Key. Joseph Flaherty
If you used Facebook to RSVP to one of 11 family separation protests across the state of Arizona last June, odds are your Facebook friends aren't the only ones who took note.

On Monday, The Intercept reported that a private intelligence company monitored social media ahead of nationwide protests against the Trump administration's family separation policy and shared that information with the Department of Homeland Security.

Documents obtained by The Intercept show the firm, LookingGlass Cyber Solutions, put together a list of more than 600 demonstrations across the country. Eleven of those protests took place in Arizona, in cities including Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, and Flagstaff.

It appears LookingGlass used Facebook to gather information on protest times, locations, and attendance, then shared that information with DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, who in turn disseminated it to staff and members of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (A DHS official told The Intercept that LookingGlass's information was "unsolicited.")

"I think it's frustrating, it's frightening, but it's not really surprising coming from this president and his administration," said Jalakoi Solomon, Arizona state director for NextGen America, a progressive advocacy organization that participated in the protests. "We've seen this administration abuse its power time and time again. They've manufactured a crisis at the border; this is just another example."

As NBC News reported in March, federal agencies created a database to track journalists and activists who had some connection to the migrant caravan. Documents obtained by NBC from the Department of Homeland Security show agents from ICE, DHS, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Border Control, and the FBI all used the database, which listed 10 journalists, an attorney, and 48 others who were listed as organizers, instigators, or "unknown." Some of the individuals on the list were arrested, interviewed, or had visas revoked, NBC reported.

More locally, Phoenix New Times reported in March that the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center monitored responses to a controversial tweet about Colin Kaepernick shared by Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead.

The center examined replies to Milstead's tweet: a criminal intelligence analyst took screenshots of the replies and the images were shared with DPS employees via email.

Some of the Arizona protests noted in the LookingGlass list took place outside churches, city halls, child detention sites, and government buildings. Nearly 800 people attended the Phoenix demonstration against Trump's family separation policy, which took place outside the Arizona Senate building.

The rallies in Arizona followed Trump's announcement of a "zero-tolerance" policy separating children who crossed the border from the parents or guardians they crossed with, and jailing them separately.

More than 3,000 children were separated from their families under the Trump administration's family separation policy. The policy did not include a plan to reunite separated families; the true number of separated children is unknown due to poor record keeping. Federal officials have said it could take up to two years to reunite the imprisoned children with their families. Meanwhile, thousands of immigrant children have said they were sexually abused in U.S. detention centers, according to a February report from the Justice Department.

"I think it's really concerning," said Solomon from NextGen when asked about the list of protests acquired by DHS. "It's pretty clear to see what they're trying to do: intimidate opponents who raise their voice and push back against this hateful ideology."
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.