NYC pastor sues US gov't for alleged mistreatment over ministering to migrants, refugees at border

The Rev. Kaji Douša, senior pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a New York City-based congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. | Facebook/Kaji Douša

A New York City pastor has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, accusing them of unlawfully detaining and monitoring her due to her charity work among immigrants.

The Rev. Kaji Douša, senior pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, which is affiliated with both the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ denominations, filed the suit on Monday in United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Douša named the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and assorted government officials in the complaint.

According to the lawsuit, Douša was unlawfully detained and interrogated by border security in January after working at a mobile clinic in Tijuana, Mexico aimed at helping migrants.

In addition to the experience, officials tracked her activities in New York, namely her participation in events and vigils surrounding immigration advocacy.

She was also added to a covert government database of figures including reporters and activists involved in work with migrants as part of “Operation Secure Line.”

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against the federal government, claiming that their “targeting” of Douša “impedes her ministry, through and through.”

“It burdens her ability to continue answering God’s call to minister to migrants and refugees, which cannot happen without confidence in confidentiality,” read the suit.

Thousands of Latin American migrants making their way through Central America to get to the United States of America. | (Screenshot: YouTube/ABC News)

“Defendants’ surveillance of Pastor Dousa has diminished attendance of migrants at church services she leads, depriving her of the ability to minister to her congregation and the community at large.”

The suit went on to argue that the government’s actions violated the First Amendment and also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“By targeting Pastor Dousa for surveillance, detention, interrogation, and other adverse actions on the basis of her Christian ministry to migrants, refugees, and those who provide them aid and sanctuary, Defendants’ actions violate the First Amendment and RFRA,” continued the suit.

In a statement released Tuesday on the UCC’s website, Douša quoted Hebrews 13:2, which reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in so doing you may be entertaining angels unawares.”

“My country has decided to punish me. But I will not look away,” stated Douša. “I will continue to look closely—to listen, to imagine, and to call us into a better way. Free me and my colleagues to do our work with migrants and we will find that better way.”

Last October, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced the launching of Operation Secure Line.

McAleenan, who is named in the lawsuit, last year described the operation as “designed to ensure that we are prepared for any number of contingencies involved with the arrival and attempted crossing of a large group of intending migrants at our border, whether they attempt to cross at a port of entry or unlawfully in between ports of entry.”

“Since we initiated our planning two weeks ago, we have completed updated assessments at each of our 26 crossing points on the southwest border and already deployed 100 specially trained special response team operators to prepare plans for each location,” explained McAleenan at the time.

“As information on the approach of a large group at a port of entry is available, we have at the ready 1,000 CBP officers, including 250 tactical enforcement officers and mobile response team professionals with training on managing contingencies including riot control.”

In March, NBC San Diego ran a story noting that, as part of the operation, the government maintained a secret list of about 50 people including journalists, immigration advocates, and others tied to the recent migrant caravan.

Some of those on the list, including at least two photojournalists and an attorney, had alerts placed on their passports which hindered their ability to enter Mexico to help caravan members.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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