On September 4, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule to add questions about individuals’ social media accounts and identifiers to a wide variety of immigration application forms, including for citizenship, refugee or asylee status, and for permanent residency, as well as on the landing card for those arriving in the U.S. on temporary visas such as visitors and foreign students.
As we’ve written previously, this will lead to an increase in denials of these applications, and of entry to the U.S. Denials could occur simply because a person omits a social media account that s/he set up but never or rarely used and later forgot about, or because someone who was friended posts content that shows up on a non-citizen’s feed that the government finds objectionable.
A recent example of the latter was the denial of entry in August to an incoming Harvard University freshman from Lebanon, after U.S. border officials at the arrival airport reportedly disapproved of other people’s posts that showed up on the student’s social media feed, even though he himself had not written anything that they found questionable. After media scrutiny and advocacy efforts, that decision was ultimately reversed and he was able to enter to begin his studies, but not every affected individual will attract the same level of attention to trigger a governmental about-face.
Governmental errors are also sure to occur, resulting in denials of visas, entry, or immigration status for those applying within the U.S., due to the government’s reported use of on-line translation platforms such as Google Translate when reviewing posts not written in English. As this article highlights, even Google states that its platform is not a substitute for a human translator.
The Brennan Center for Justice has produced a report outlining the risks of increased social media scrutiny in the immigration context.
Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through November 4, 2019. MeBIC has submitted a comment in opposition.