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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.