Judge Denies Injunction to Pastor Who Claims She Was Targeted For Work With Immigrants

(CN) – A Christian pastor who ministers to immigrants and refugees failed to obtain a court order that would have prevented the government from continuing to monitor her activities along the U.S.-Mexico border and in New York. 

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns ruled Tuesday in the Southern District of California that Pastor Kaji Dousa failed to pass the extremely high bar required to obtain a preliminary injunction. Dousa claims in her lawsuit that the federal government is illegally targeting her because of her ministry work. 

A woman walks on the beach next to the border wall topped with razor wire in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2019. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

“At this stage, the Court cannot find that Dousa is likely to show that she suffered adverse government action that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in protected activity,” Burns wrote in a 22-page decision. 

Despite declining to award a preliminary injunction, Burns denied the government’s motion to dismiss Dousa’s claims outright, ruling the pastor has standing to pursue her central contention that the government’s surveillance has hindered her ability to minister to immigrants in the borderlands. 

“Dousa has plausibly shown that the Government surveilled her religious and political activities for the better part of two years and that she has withdrawn from many of her normal religious activities as a result of that surveillance,” Burns wrote. 

Specifically, the pastor said the government’s spying on her activities makes her reluctant to engage with immigrants for fear of compromising their immigration status or unwittingly bringing their activities to immigration officials’ attention. 

The judge said discovery has demonstrated surveillance has occurred and may continue. 

“All told, the duration and extent of past surveillance means that it’s not a stretch to think the surveillance continues today,” Burns wrote. 

The judge was less convinced that Dousa faces constant harassment by the border patrol officials while leaving and reentering the country, noting the pastor has reentered the U.S. three times in the past year without facing any kind of questioning. 

“More importantly, though, the detention appears to have been an isolated incident,” Burns wrote. “Since the January 2, 2019 questioning, Dousa has left and reentered the United States three times.” 

In her initial complaint filed in July, Dousa said Customs and Border Patrol officers detained her for several hours and subjected her to intense questioning while insinuating her activities were illegal. 

However, Burns noted that government documents seem to indicate Dousa was detained for a total of 43 minutes last January and that she has been able to cross freely in and out of the country since then. 

Nevertheless, Burns said the concerns that government surveillance could have a chilling effect on Dousa’s ability to effectively carry out her religious duties are warranted. 

The pastor traveled to Tijuana earlier this year and in 2018 to pray with immigrants and perform various religious services. She has officiated over the weddings of approximately 20 refugees. In January 2019, Dousa was on the way back to the U.S. from such a trip when she was detained at the border by agents of various federal agencies – including the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Dousa said her name has been entered in a secret database along with the names of other activists, journalists and individuals dedicated to the humane treatment of immigrants. The database is called “Operation Secure Line.”

Dousa has been a pastor engaged with immigrant rights for more than 20 years. Before moving to New York City, where she currently resides, she worked in a church in La Mesa, California – about 20 miles from the border.

In addition to her work at the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York, Dousa is the co-chair of New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based organization dedicated to advocating for immigrant communities.

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