The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Seal / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Before President Donald Trump was even inaugurated, Lauren Duca wrote a column that catapulted her career. The title was “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.”

The money quote:

To gaslight is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias.

Over the last three years, the administration has continued gaslighting the country – and nowhere is evidence of this stronger than in our backyard, at the U.S.-Mexico border. A great scoop this week by our friends at NBC San Diego makes this clearer than ever.

Back in June, at the height of outrage over children being separated from their parents at the border, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted there was no such policy. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” she tweeted. To drive that home, she emphasized, with the seal of the White House behind her: “This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border.”

Of course they did. Dozens of reports and pieces of evidence have emerged showing there was a policy. There’s also common sense: By instituting the zero tolerance policy at the border, the administration was committing to putting every adult caught crossing illegally into criminal custody. You know who you can’t put into adult jails? Children.

It happened again as recently as this week, when Nielsen testified before a House committee that “there is no policy of family separation.”

Meanwhile, NBC San Diego’s blockbuster report showed that the Department of Homeland Security was keeping a list and even creating dossiers on activists, journalists and at least one lawyer with ties to the migrant caravan.

As NBC reported, “These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the U.S. government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.”

Indeed, both The Intercept and the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year on those suspicions. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in February it was troubled by what was happening at the border.

NBC San Diego’s report gave away the game.

“We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency,” a DHS source told them. “We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”

And yet even after being called out by one of their own, Customs and Border Protection has insisted on keeping the charade going. They responded to the report by saying this was just routine information-gathering. Nothing to see here. The gaslighting continues.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Jesse Marx and Andy Keatts peeled back the curtain on an internal dispute that’s roiling the San Diego Democratic Party: Many allege that a dozen South Bay clubs that are affiliated with one local consultant exist only on paper, and are a tool to help that consultant’s candidates and friends win endorsements. After our story published, state Sen. Ben Hueso urged the party to hold off on declaring which 2020 races it considers critical – a move that would also likely benefit his campaign for county supervisor.

♦ ♦ ♦

It won’t shock you to learn that we’re pretty big fans of public records. They’re, like, how we do our jobs. That’s why a big part of our jobs has now become going to court to secure records. That’s what we’re doing with San Diego State, over documents that could shed light on how it plans to finance the SDSU West deal. Though SDSU is withholding documents we’re going to court to obtain, it has released some records – which show just how close to the line the school came in terms of coordinating with the Friends of SDSU group in the run-up to the 2018 election.

We’re also in the midst of a lawsuit with San Diego Unified over its consistent delays and denials of public records. As a glaring example of that pattern, the district has withheld records on sexual misconduct cases for 474 days now.

Though both of these cases demonstrate how hard it already is to secure public records from public agencies, a bill by Sen. Ben Hueso would make it even harder. We got, uh, a little heated about it on this week’s podcast.

♦ ♦ ♦

In 2015, the state Legislature was home to a blistering battle over vaccines. Now, vaccine opponents are back – and one of the measures they’ve taken aim at is Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s bill to prevent a repeat of the response to San Diego’s hep A crisis. They’ve got their sights on other bills, too.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“In ‘thank u, next,’ Grande casts her exes as steppingstones on her path to greatness, men who taught her ‘patience,’ ‘pain’ and, ultimately, how little she needed them. There’s nothing harsher than having your relationship converted into a learning experience. And the worst part is, you know she’s right.” – My favorite kind of writing is the kind that treats pop culture with both the joy and seriousness it deserves. This package on the most important songs of the moment also happens to feature some of my favorite writers on the planet.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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