Social media screening will now be required by the State Department for most visa applicants and could affect as many as 15 million immigrants as part of the Trump Administration’s “extreme vetting” campaign, according to the Associated Press and The Hill.
The new provision will now call for an individuals’ past usernames, email addresses, phone numbers and international travel history dating back five years. Those who apply will also be asked if they have ever been deported or if any of their family members have ties to terrorist groups.
Lauren Jacobsen, University of North Texas Director of International Student and Scholar services, said she didn’t “have the data or expertise,” to tell whether or not the new social media policies would effect students.
However, she did provide the Daily with a letter signed by the Association of International Educators, of which she is a member, that renounced the requirements in a late May letter to the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The letter, signed by more than 50 educational organizations nationally, said that the social media screening requirements could stifle the flow of future international travel to the United States.
“Requiring every immigrant and nonimmigrant applicant to provide up to five years of social media accounts, telephone numbers, email addresses and travel history, is likely to stifle the flow of future international travel to the United States,” the letter reads. “As each notice indicates, the additional questions will add significant time to the application and adjudication process, possibly leading to unacceptably long delays.”
The University of North Texas saw an increase in international students in the 2017-18 academic year and Texas ranks third when it comes the largest amount of international students in the U.S. with an estimated 84,000 students, according to 2017-18 statistics from the Institute of International Education.
The not-for-profit organization conducts annual surveys alongside the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
Andreas Pacheco, the Executive Director of Opening Doors International Services in Denton, said that while ties to terrorist organizations should be monitored, social media is not always proper gauge of people’s moral character.
Many in Congress who criticize “big government” are making the government bigger on the security side, Pacheco said. “They talk about how we don’t like a big government. But they are this big government on the security side because they suspect everybody is a potential criminal.”
In terms of the new screening policy, Pacheco describes it as something that is being done “for political effect.”
The State Department defends the new measure.
“Social media can be a major forum for terrorist sentiment and activity,” a State Department official told The Hill.
Conservative-based think tank Cato Institue has questioned the measure.
“The rate for deadly terrorists was 1 for every 379 million visa or status approvals from 2002 through 2016,” said immigration policy analyst David Bier in a 2018 report. “The chance of an American being killed in an attack committed by a terrorist who entered as a result of a vetting failure was one in 328 million per year. The risk from vetting failures was 99.5 percent lower during this period than during the 15-year period from 1987 to 2001. The evidence indicates that the U.S. vetting system is already ‘extreme’ enough to handle the challenge of foreign terrorist infiltration.”
The Brennan Center for Justice members Harsha Panduranga, Faiza Patel and Michael W. Price have also questioned the legality of the tool in a 2017 report.
“The collection of social media profiles also facilitates ideological profiling, a practice that has been rejected by Congress as contrary to American ideals and dismissed by experts as ineffective,” the report said.
Sanskriti Telang, a fashion merchandising sophomore who came to UNT from New Delhi, India was unsure of the requirement’s effectiveness.
“A person’s social media is a personal affair but can also be misused,” she said. “This policy could either be really beneficial or not at all.”
Featured image: Photo Illustration by Richard William Johndrow.
Jelani Gibson contributed to this article.