Pastor Kaji Dousa, formerly the pastor of the United Church in La Mesa, now lives in New York City. She volunteers with the New Sanctuary Coalition, which provides support to immigrants facing detention and deportation.
Activism is in her family’s blood. Her mother worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, one of the major American civil rights movement organizations of the time. Dousa’s mother encouraged and organized African Americans to register and vote throughout the Jim Crow south. As a result, Dousa said her parents became FBI targets.
“I'm a daughter of people who were targets of COINTELPRO and they had pretty thick FBI files themselves because of the work in the civil rights movement that they had done. And now, when we look back on it, you know history shows, that they were in the right.” Dousa said. “But COINTELPRO made their life lives quite difficult at various phases.”
According to the FBI, COINTELPRO was a program that ran from 1956 to 1971 to discredit political dissidents. It was a series of secret, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the FBI, aimed at surveilling, discrediting, and disrupting political organizations and political dissidents.
In March, Dousa confirmed with NBC7 Investigates that she was listed in a secret government database of suspected “organizers, coordinators and instigators” tied to the migrant caravan.
To read NBC7’s original story, click here.
Dousa said it reminded her of what her parents experienced.
“I believe it's a political hit list and they're trying to use me as a broad example,” she said. “I think they're trying to intimidate us because we're dissidents and we're being critical of what we believe to be evil.”
Dousa traveled to Mexico twice in 2018 after a caravan of migrants from Central America made its way to Tijuana.
“I went twice to the border, especially related to the migrant caravan. We were able to see the terrible living conditions people were under. I saw showers that were co-ed. I saw people living with tents if they were lucky. Otherwise, they might have a tarp.”
As part of her work with New Sanctuary, Dousa provided counseling and led prayers with asylum seekers.
“We sent faith leaders from across the country down to witness and meet the migrants who were at the border. I officiated some weddings for families who were just having the first opportunity to have a church-blessed wedding.”
On January 2, 2019, Dousa was crossing back from Tijuana through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. But this time, when she handed Customs and Border Protection agents her passport, something was different.
“He was very friendly. And then his face changed when I guess something came up about me. Like a trigger, that he would need to take me back to a secondary inspection.”
Dousa didn't know it at the time, but the U.S. government had placed an alert on her passport. She also didn't know she was on a secret US-Mexico government database, requiring more scrutiny from agents.
Dousa was led into a back room, where she sat for hours until she was interrogated by agents.
“It was scary sitting there with no explanation and I wasn't free to go,“ she said.
When NBC 7 Investigates confirmed Dousa was on the list, she said she was terrified.
“I burst into tears. This is the most powerful government in the world. And for me to have these yellow crosshairs across my face. I mean, what is that?”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has called the surveillance program "standard law enforcement practice," and has claimed everyone listed was suspected of smuggling migrants across the border illegally or had witnessed acts of border violence that are under investigation.
But Dousa says neither of those reasons apply to her.
“Remember, I'm a pastor. And I don't do anything illegal. And usually what I'm doing is praying. So what is it this government is trying to stop me from doing?”
Since the January 2 incident, Dousa has since crossed from Tijuana to San Diego and back again, but was not pulled into a secondary inspection.
Dousa said she is determined to continue her work with migrants and asylum seekers across the border.
“I'm a Christian. Jesus was a refugee. He was an immigrant," she said. "And so when I see people trying to deport or to deny asylum to people who are suffering it's as if they're doing that to Jesus himself. From my perspective. So there is a moral obligation to stand up for them.”