A U.S. district court ruled that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) violated the rights of an ordained senior pastor, Rev. Kaji Dousa, a U.S. citizen, who was providing pastoral support and conducting rituals for migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, including religious marriage ceremonies with no legal effect. The pastor was a member of the Global Entry program. She was active in making television and media appearances in which she discussed immigration issues, and met with local, state, and federal political representatives to discuss public policy and legislative issues related to immigration, the court noted. She participated in a “caravan” to provide aid and support to migrants in Mexico gathered near the border.
In January 2019, Rev. Dousa was detained at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in secondary inspection after she crossed into the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro port of entry, then let go after about 43 minutes of questioning. The CBP “field encounter” report said there was no derogatory information found during the interview. Despite that, derogatory information was included in her records. Among other things, a CBP agent had emailed the Mexican government in December 2018 on behalf of CBP to request that Rev. Dousa be denied entry to Mexico and sent back to the United States. Various CBP actions had a chilling effect and substantially burdened her ministry in Mexico, she said.
The court found that Rev. Dousa’s activities were constitutionally protected activity, and that the CBP agent’s email to the Mexican government in 2018 constituted retaliation against her in violation of her First Amendment rights and violated her right to freely exercise her religion. The court also found that CBP violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court said she was entitled to recover at least some reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees but deferred ruling on the amount, pending receipt of additional briefings from the parties.