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.