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Statement

Civil Society Groups Ask DHS for Information About Use of Social Media in Immigration Decisions

On November 19, the Brennan Center for Justice, together with other civil society groups, sent a letter to Chad Wolf, the Acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Published: November 19, 2019

On Novem­ber 19, the Bren­nan Center for Justice, the Amer­ican-Arab Anti-Discrim­in­a­tion Commit­tee, and the Center for Demo­cracy & Tech­no­logy, together with other civil soci­ety groups, sent a letter to Chad Wolf, the Acting Secret­ary for the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity. The letter outlines concerns about DHS’s use of social media screen­ing to make determ­in­a­tions about immig­ra­tion bene­fits, visa applic­a­tions, and dura­tions of stay in the United States. 

The letter warns that over­broad monit­or­ing can have detri­mental chilling effects on free speech and asso­ci­ation and lead to racial and reli­gious discrim­in­a­tion, espe­cially when screen­ing prac­tices are coordin­ated with “extreme vetting” initi­at­ives. The context of online speech and asso­ci­ation is also frequently misun­der­stood; social media posts can easily be taken out of context, and online “friends” are often acquaint­ances at most. Finally, the letter observes that activ­ists, journ­al­ists, and schol­ars from margin­al­ized back­grounds may be discour­aged from trav­el­ing to the United States out of fear that they will be held respons­ible for state­ments made by members of their networks.

Accord­ingly, the letter, which can be viewed below, puts forth four ques­tions for DHS to answer in order to learn more about what the depart­ment is doing to protect immig­rants’ rights to free speech and asso­ci­ation. The ques­tions include:

  • whether ques­tions about online beha­vior are sanc­tioned by DHS policy or train­ings;
  • how heav­ily online connec­tions and beha­vior influ­ence immig­ra­tion decisions, and whether such weight­ing is laid out in DHS guid­ance;
  • what safe­guards are in place to protect immig­rants’ rights, includ­ing from the DHS Privacy and Civil Rights and Civil Liber­ties offices; and
  • whether consid­er­a­tions are made regard­ing how gaps in DHS’s guid­ance may dispar­ately impact margin­al­ized communit­ies.