SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CN) – A Christian pastor claims Monday in federal complaint that the federal government illegally targeted her for administering her faith to refugees and immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pastor Kaji Dousa alleges the Trump administration’s attempts to intimidate, harass, and subject her to covert surveillance – entering her name in a secret database – violated her First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“In this country, the government cannot dictate the people with whom a pastor may pray, to whom she may preach, or for whom she may seek God’s pardon and absolution,” Dousa said in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
Dousa said her faith compelled her to offer ministry to refugees and immigrants traveling from Central America in search of asylum and that the federal government is attempting to infringe on that constitutionally protected action.
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.
According to the complaint, the agents revealed they had been actively surveilling Dousa while collecting information about her and her work.
“These officials marked Pastor Dousa for surveillance because she prayed with and for immigrants and because she generated publicity about the devastation that ICE’s enforcement activities rain on immigrants and their families,” the complaint states.
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.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
Sousa 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, Calif., – about 20 miles from the border.
In addition to her work at the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York, Sousa is the co-chair of New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based organization dedicated to advocating for immigrant communities.
The suit was filed by Jaba Tsitsuashvili of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, which is based in Washington D.C.