Homeland Security Will Start Surveilling All Immigrants

[Content Note: Nativism.]

In March, I wrote about then-White House strategist Steve Bannon's contention that the United States has "a problem with legal immigration." At the time, I noted:
The administration started by going after undocumented immigrants. Then they turned their attention to Muslim immigrants and refugees, people who were coming to this nation legally.

Bannon, who is now the White House chief strategist, has gone on record saying that there are too many "legal" immigrants, full-stop.

This is very troubling for anyone who is a documented immigrant, or partnered with a documented immigrant, even if they are already citizens, because the law only protects you insofar as any administration respects the rule of law. And this administration doesn't.

And they particularly disregard the rule of law when they are seeking to silence and intimidate.

I'm certainly not ignoring the immense privilege that Iain has as a white European immigrant. I also can't ignore that his being an immigrant, when the White House chief strategist is making blanket statements about legal immigrants, could be used against us (at some point, as the erosion of the rule of law continues), because I'm a public, outspoken critic of the administration.

It's a feature of authoritarian regimes to make statements precisely like this one to keep people in line. The threat of coming after people who thought they were safe.
Naturally, I was accused of alarmism, hyperbole, paranoia, and the usual chorus of insults, but I regret to report that essentially the precise fears I detailed six months ago are now becoming our new reality.

Adolfo Flores at BuzzFeed reports (emphases mine):
Federal officials are planning to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens, a move that has alarmed lawyers and privacy groups worried about how the information will be used.

The Department of Homeland Security published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of people's immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18.

DHS and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy and free expression, said the plan was disturbing.

"We see this as part of a larger process of high tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening," Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "There's a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners and we think it's an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech."

This would also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants, Schwartz said, who could self censor out of fear that information they exchange with someone overseas could be misconstrued and used against them.
This new set of guidelines is being justified by an unproven premise that social media behavior can predict potential terrorist acts. There is no evidence of efficacy, never mind the ethical concerns, of such a program — but that's almost beside the point. Irrespective of whether it "works" or whether it's decent or legal, surveilling immigrants' social media will function spectacularly as a chilling intimidation to immigrants and their families.

Covering the new rule at Gizmodo, Matt Novak writes: "Collecting this kind of information would also have a dramatic impact on every single person that interacts with immigrants to the US, since it would seemingly make all of their conversations on social media subject to surveillance. In the interest of full disclosure, yours truly is married to a US green card holder, so not only will my wife be subjected to this new rule, conceivably I will as well."

My spouse is a naturalized citizen. What does my work mean for us? For our future?

I don't know. All I know for sure is that every word I write in resistance of this administration puts us at greater risk with each passing day.

That is not alarmism. That is not hyperbole. That is my reality.

Once upon a time, we could count on the courts to overturn such an egregious overreach by an administration. No longer. Trump is busily filling 100 federal court vacancies, and Neil Gorsuch now sits on the Supreme Court. There are no guarantees anymore, and precious little to protect us.

I spit venom in the direction of any person who said there was no difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Fuck every last one of you. For a million reasons — including this one: Under a Hillary Clinton presidency, I never would have had to send my husband an email this morning, or any morning, saying we need to talk about whether we are still safe in this country, the country of my birth and his country of choice.

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