In October 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tweeted a photo of four undocumented men who were arrested by the agency and captioned it with the hashtag “#CatchOfTheDay,” a phrase typically used to describe freshly caught fish. American Oversight is taking CBP and DHS to court to find out how and why that hashtag was used – and whether it was part of a coordinated campaign by the Trump administration to dehumanize undocumented immigrants.
On October 20, 2017, CBP tweeted pictures of four men arrested by the agency. According to a CBP press release, the men were undocumented immigrants awaiting a disposition on felony criminal immigration violations.
— CBP (@CBP) October 20, 2017
Prior to this tweet, CBP had used the hashtag to publicize drug interdictions, seizures, and arrests. CBP first used the hashtag in a February 7, 2017 tweet lauding the seizure of $500,000 worth of methamphetamine. Though CBP sometimes attached photos of vehicles, drugs, and other contraband, the agency’s October 20 tweet was the only one to include pictures of people. CBP’s #CatchOfTheDay campaign began around the same time that Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly began an initiative to portray undocumented immigrants as criminals.
The dehumanization of undocumented individuals has become a pattern in the Trump administration. On May 21, 2018, the White House issued a memo titled “What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13” that called the members of the MS-13 gang animals 10 different times. According to an article in Politico, the president went on to later say in a meeting about immigration that some undocumented individuals being deported “aren’t people – they’re animals.”
While Trump’s comments were perhaps the administration’s most high-profile statement implying that undocumented individuals are dangerous and animalistic – this wasn’t the first time that Trump or his administration had used this kind of rhetoric.
American Oversight’s Executive Director, Austin Evers, explained:
“Did CBP decide on its own to use #CatchOfTheDay to describe human beings or was this language directed by political leaders at Homeland Security or the White House? With President Trump calling undocumented immigrants ‘animals,’ it’s hard to see tweets like this as anything other than part of an ongoing, racist agenda to dehumanize immigrants.”
American Oversight submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) single request to CBP and DHS in October 2017 seeking any emails related to CBP’s decision to use the “#CatchOfTheDay” hashtag. The request sought all emails containing references to “catch of the day,” “illegal,” “alien,” “felon,” or “criminal” within numerous agency offices including the Office of the Commissioners, the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, the Office of Public Affairs and the Chief of U.S. Border Patrol. Neither CBP nor DHS provided records in response to the FOIA request, so we had no choice but to take them to court to get answers.
See the complaint below: