Border Agents Reportedly Using Facebook to Screen Travelers Blocked By Trump Order

January 28, 2017, 9:57 PM UTC

A spokesperson for the American Immigration Lawyers Association has told The Independent that, following a sweeping executive order from President Donald Trump restricting travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries, U.S. border agents are using the Facebook pages of U.S. green card holders to evaluate their political views before admitting them to the U.S.

Another credible report of the use of social media to screen travelers came from Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council.

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The ban has triggered a wave of confusion about who exactly its intended targets are. Though the Trump administration has focused on its restrictions on the flow of new refugees to the U.S., Homeland Security officials speaking with ProPublica have said the ban also affects as many as 500,000 current legal U.S. residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

A flood of reports indicate that legal U.S. residents are being detained at airports, prevented from boarding flights to the U.S., and even sent back to their countries of origin after landing in the U.S., despite their legal right to enter the country. That appears to include both permanent residents who have been issued green cards, and those admitted to the U.S. legally as students or temporary foreign workers.

In response to the order, Google has ordered its affected international workers travelling abroad to return to the U.S., though it’s now unclear whether they will be allowed to.

The executive order does grant the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security discretion to admit travelers from affected countries on a case-by-case basis. One stated criteria for that admission is membership in “a religious minority in his [sic] country of nationality facing religious persecution.” That suggests that in addition to becoming part of a political litmus test, affected travelers’ social media profiles could be mined for religious data.

For more on Trump and the Muslim ban, watch our video.

Though the current executive order is limited to 120 days, it also calls for the creation of new screening standards for immigrants—the “extreme vetting” cited by Trump during the presidential campaign. In part, that would include “a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.”

That open-ended and subjective standard presents the possibility that, with or without tech companies’ active involvement, authorities may use social media data as part of sweeping restrictions on Muslim immigration.

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