In what looks like the Trump administration’s latest effort to tighten the US border by subjecting entrants to greater scrutiny, the State Department announced in the Federal Register on Friday that it was proposing to require that people seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas provide consular officials with additional information, including their social media accounts from the past five years, Ana Campoy reports at Quartz:
“This is an indirect way that the Trump administration is trying to limit immigration to the US that does not require for them to go to Congress,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, of the proposed rules.
The US had already been requesting social-media information from people suspected to represent a national security threat. That policy targeted a sliver of travelers to the US—about 65,000. The new measures would cover nearly 15 million people. Along with the handles, the State Department is also asking for a five-year history of email addresses, telephone numbers, and international trips.
The proposals must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget after a 60-day public comment period, so these new requirements will not come into effect until this summer at the earliest, but if they do, Campoy surmises, it may make some people think twice about traveling to the US. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement condemning the proposals as “ineffective and deeply problematic”:
The ACLU has opposed previous attempts by federal government agencies to collect social media information from immigrants or travelers to the U.S. because these attempts will cause immigrants and their online contacts, such as U.S. citizen family, friends, acquaintances, and business associates to self-censor what they say online. The government has failed to disclose how this information — accurate or not — may be shared across government agencies and have consequences for individuals living in America, including U.S. citizens. There is also no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair, especially in the absence of criteria to guide the use of social media information in the visa adjudication process.
The administration has already taken a number of other steps to make both immigration and non-immigrant travel to the US more onerous for foreign individuals, mainly through executive orders from President Donald Trump. These include an indefinite ban on travelers and immigrants from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as a series of orders requiring more extensive scrutiny of visa applicants and business travelers. The administration has also tightened standards for the H-1B temporary skilled worker visa program.