Tell DHS: Hands Off Immigrants’ Social Media!

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is taking new steps to monitor and criminalize immigrant communities: they’re pro-actively gathering and recording social media information of all immigrants to the United States – including new immigrants, permanent residents, and naturalized citizens.

This data could be used to prosecute, deny benefits to, limit due process of, and even deport people. It may also affect those who communicate with immigrants on social media by including their conversations in government surveillance.

UUSC sent the comment below in response, urging DHS to rescind this rule. Join us to defend immigrants’ privacy at uusc.org/defend-privacy and submit your own public comment by Wednesday, October 18, 2017!

October 17, 2017

Mr. Jonathan R. Cantor
Acting Chief Privacy Officer
Privacy Office
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528-0655

Re: DHS-2017-0038 – Notice of Modified Privacy Act System of Records

Dear Mr. Cantor:

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee submits this comment for the public record to express our opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s recent modification to the Privacy Act System of Records, published as docket number DHS-2017-0038 (the “proposed rule”). In particular, we are concerned by the new provisions on p. 43557, paragraph 1, column 1, to “expand the categories of records to include […] social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results[.]”

We respectfully request that the agency withdraw this proposed rule. As a human rights agency with over 40,000 members and supporters across the United States, we believe this proposed rule threatens the rights and principles we and our partners work to uphold. Our chief concerns are as follows:

This proposed rule is discriminatory.

The proposed rule unfairly burdens naturalized citizens with a degree of surveillance that does not apply to birthright citizens. It thereby sets up a two-tiered system of citizenship, in violation of the principle of the equal protection of the laws.

The proposed rule would expose immigrants and others with Alien files to higher levels of surveillance and government scrutiny than other U.S. residents. This is a form of , i.e. subjecting some members of the community to an unjust presumption of suspicion.

This proposed rule chills free speech.

Information posted on social media may be misrepresented as “gang-related” and place an immigrant at heightened risk of deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) frequently prioritizes deportation of immigrants based on alleged gang ties, and immigration agents have, according to several recent lawsuits, repeatedly misinterpreted hand gestures, tattoos, and colored clothing as symbols of gang membership.

Gang membership accusations are made and acted upon without due process or lawful conviction and on the basis of unreliable “gang databases.”[2] They are therefore particularly vulnerable to being informed by racial and ethnic bias.

This proposed rule threatens privacy.

While this new rule directly affects only publicly available information on social media, CBP and ICE agents have in the past asked immigrants to divulge social media passwords. We are concerned that the collection of information on social media accounts under this new rule, as well as the linking of online aliases to real people, could easily create more targets for future government efforts to obtain social media log-in credentials and other private information.

Government surveillance and data collection on such a scale may intrinsically be rife with potential for abuse, including stalking, data breaches, and other major invasions of privacy.[3]

This proposed rule will not make anyone safer.

The use of information on social media has not proven to be a valuable tool in screening for immigration benefits. DHS’s Office of the Inspector General found in a February 27, 2017 report that DHS pilot programs to collect social media information “lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives.”[4]

Theories of “radicalization” that treat opinions and statements made on social media as reliable indicators of future violent or terrorist behavior have been debunked.[5] Violent acts are not reliably linked to specific ideologies, belief statements, or personality profiles, and vice versa.

This proposed rule threatens due process.

This new rule arrives at a time when Congress is considering options that would further undermine due process for lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and other immigrants. (See the “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act” (H.R. 3697), e.g.)[6] Now is a particularly dangerous time to open more immigrants’ photos and personal information to potential misinterpretation as gang-related.

In these ways and others, we remain concerned that this proposed policy will encourage the use of unjust stereotypes about criminality and terrorism as a basis for government actions.

We strongly urge you to heed these concerns and rescind the new rule.

Respectfully,

Joshua Leach
Associate for Programs, Research and Advocacy
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
jleach@uusc.org

[1] National Public Radio, “Undocumented Teens Say They’re Falsely Accused Of Being In A Gang,” August 17, 2017. http://n.pr/2zlDdp9; Vice News, “How ICE Uses Secret Police Databases to Arrest Immigrants,” August 28, 2017. http://bit.ly/2wMa4FT

[2] Ali Winston, The Intercept, “Vague Rules Let ICE Deport Undocumented Immigrants as Gang Members,” February 17, 2017. http://bit.ly/2lt0jGw

[3] Upturn, “Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future,” 2014. https://bigdata.fairness.io/database-abuse/

[4] DHS OIG, “DHS’s Pilots for Social Media Screening Need Increased Rigor to Ensure Scalability and Long-term Success,” February 27, 2017. http://bit.ly/2yJ94TK

[5] Faiza Patel, Meghan Koushik, Brennan Center, “Countering Violent Extremism,” March 16, 2017. https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/countering-violent-extremism

[6] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr3697

Immigrants have the same rights to free speech and privacy as everyone. No one should feel they are the targets of profiling, monitoring, and unreasonable suspicion by the state. We must raise our collective voices against this far-reaching rule. Tell the government: Respect the privacy and safety of immigrants by keeping out of their social media.

UUSC Responds to Violence in Las Vegas

This morning I awoke to news that at least 50 lives were lost and hundreds more injured due to senseless gun violence in Nevada. My heart goes out to all who are directly affected by last night’s shooting—the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

There is still much to learn about the situation, but make no mistake — this act was preventable, and as the community mourns and recovers, we must support them with a renewed vow to stop violence in all its forms. Additionally, if you are in the Las Vegas area and interested in helping directly, I encourage you to donate blood if you are able.

UUSC works across the world to dismantle systems of oppression and uplift and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all, to ensure that people can live safely and securely. To live a life free from the fear of violence is an issue of human rights. We join in solidarity with all those afflicted by this and other forms of violence.

Updated “Muslim ban” Still Discriminatory, Still Indefensible

Sunday night the Trump administration announced new travel restrictions, which will indefinitely ban the vast majority of people from seven nations – Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – from entering the United States, and halt entry for certain Venezuelan government officials and their families. These restrictions extend and expand the original “Muslim ban,” which several courts have already declared unconstitutional. They are also a transparent attempt to sidestep legal challenges to the ban as the Supreme Court prepares to hear challenges in Trump v. Int’l Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii.

We are not deceived by superficial changes in policy. The fact that the administration’s restrictions now include a handful of non-Muslim-majority countries does not remove their unlawful character. As Judge Derrick Watson reaffirmed in Hawaii v. Trump: “It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution.”

Additionally, it is cold comfort that Sudan has been removed from the list of barred countries. Last week the administration rescinded Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sudanese nationals, despite ongoing food insecurity and violence in the country,  continuing its pattern of exclusion and nativism against the Sudanese by other means.

Every day the refugee and travel bans remain in effect, this administration denies safety to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, many who have been displaced by U.S. foreign policy. The United States continues to bankroll a Saudi war in Yemen that has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and is reportedly planning a further expansion of unlawful drone strikes in Yemen, Libya, and Somalia – three countries targeted by the ban. For the U.S. government to bar safe travel and refuge to the victims of its military actions is particularly shameful.

Regardless of shape-shifting, the Trump administration’s travel and refugee bans remain as legally and morally indefensible now as before.

Regardless of shape-shifting, the Trump administration’s travel and refugee bans remain as legally and morally indefensible now as before. They are a straightforward violation of the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom and equal protection under the law. Trump’s own words have revealed time and again that his actions are intended to discriminate against Muslims.

UUSC will continue to take action to oppose this and similar Executive Orders, whether by again joining as amici in the litigation or, along with our partners at the Arab American Civic Council and the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, endorsing the #NoMuslimBanEver campaign. Learn more the campaign and get involved at nomuslimbanever.com.

The U.S. Has A Moral Responsibility to Support Refugees

UPDATE: On Wednesday, September 27, 2017 the White House officially announced to Congress that it will set the refugee admissions cap to a historic low of only 45,000 in FY2018. In response, UUSC calls on Congress to do everything in its power to raise the cap to at least 75,000. The administration’s efforts to shut the door on refugees as part of its xenophobic political agenda do not diminish the moral responsibility of the United States to provide refuge for those fleeing violence and persecution. We continue to stand with refugees, their families, and their communities and will continue to fight for their rights.

UUSC condemns the White House’s threats to cut the refugee admissions quota to a historic low of less than 50,000 and urges the administration to institute a refugee admissions quota of no less than 75,000 in FY2018. At a time when the world is in the midst of the largest global migration crisis on record, any decision to reduce the refugee admissions cap would be an affront to the moral responsibility of the United States to provide a safe-haven for those fleeing violence and insecurity.

Lowering the admissions level is not factually grounded and represents yet another example of the Trump administration’s attacks on refugee and immigrant communities that include the Muslim ban, supporting the RAISE Act, and the decisions to end the Central American Minors (CAM) and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. Despite what the administration claims, these attacks on refugee and immigrant communities do not promote national security or the economy. They are only designed to further the Administration’s nativist political agenda. As recent leaks have revealed, the administration appears to recognize that there is no justification for reducing the quota and has even gone so far as to actively suppress evidence about the contributions refugees make to our economy in order to justify their plans to reduce refugee admissions.

It is also important to note that news of the administration’s potential cuts to the refugee quota came the same week that the Supreme Court rejected part of a Ninth Circuit decision temporarily halting Trump’s executive order commonly called the “Muslim ban.” This ruling means that refugees will no longer be protected from the ban, even if they have a preexisting agreement with a resettlement agency. While the lower court ruling regarding extended family members still applies, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Muslim ban on October 10. In response, UUSC has signed onto an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to affirm the previous holdings of the Ninth and Fourth Circuits and block the ban from being enforced.

In recognition of the pattern of attacks on refugee and immigrant communities coming from the White House, it is critical that we take action in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. We encourage you to join us in supporting #NoMuslimBanEver, a national month action of online and in person events leading up to the Supreme Court hearing.

Please check our website, Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly for updates on how you can continue to join us to support refugee and immigrant communities and resist the Muslim ban.

 

ICE Moves to Destroy Records of Abuse

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has provisionally approved a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy records related to detainees, which include, “incidents of sexual abuse and assault, escapes, deaths while in agency custody, telephone rates charged to detainees, alternatives to detention, logs and reports on status of detainees and detention facilities, and location and segregation of detainees.”

UUSC sent the following comment in response, urging NARA to deny this request:

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is gravely concerned by reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks to destroy records pertaining to the sexual abuse, death, and solitary confinement of people in ICE detention. These documents provide a crucial evidentiary basis for future efforts to expose ICE abuses, hold the agency accountable, and offer a truthful historical reckoning of the nature of U.S. immigration enforcement. In light of the agency’s persistent failure to properly report and investigate human rights abuses, it would be grossly irresponsible to allow ICE to eliminate evidence of its own misconduct.

The government’s arguments in favor of destroying these documents are deeply flawed. UUSC rejects the claim put forward by federal appraisers, for instance, that retaining records of sexual abuse is unnecessary because “ICE creates annual reports on incidents of allegations of sexual abuse or assaults of individuals in ICE custody.” ICE has shown time and again it cannot be trusted to properly investigate its own officers and their actions. In April, UUSC’s partners at Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and assault in ICE detention. CIVIC found that between May 2014 and July 2016, ICE received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse per day. Yet the agency investigated a mere 2.4% of the total. CIVIC also documented cases of retaliation and silencing of victims who reported abuse. In one instance, a woman was confined in solitary for over a week after she filed a harassment complaint against an officer.

ICE’s request to destroy documents comes at a time, moreover, when the agency is already under justified scrutiny for its lack of openness and transparency. After ICE announced plans for a massive deportation raid last week called “Operation Mega,” shortly after the termination of DACA, and then seemed to change course in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, immigrant rights groups mobilized nationwide to lodge Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at every ICE field office, demanding clarity about the agency’s plans and tactics. Danny Cendejas of the Detention Watch Network declared: “ICE is an agency that regularly lies and actively hides information from public view.” UUSC’s partners at CIVIC and Grassroots Leadership agree, providing numerous examples of this pattern of deception in previous ICE raids. The UndocuBlack Network, also a UUSC partner, also have a pending FOIA request with the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE, to expose its decision-making process regarding the fate of 50,000 Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Plainly what is needed is to shed more light on a secretive agency whose decisions daily impact the lives, freedom, and dignity of millions of non-citizens. To allow ICE to eliminate records of possible human rights violations at its own hands as early as 2023 (and at a rate much faster than other federal agencies) would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The thousands of people who pass through immigration detention each year without trial or due process deserve better. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should reject ICE’s request and ensure the preservation of these documents for future generations.

UUA, UUSC Leaders are Appalled by Decision to End DACA

DREAMers are not bargaining chips to be used for political gain

The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Thomas Andrews, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), issued the following statement in response to the Trump administration’s announcement to end the DACA program:

“As leaders in faith and human rights, and working jointly through the Love Resists campaign to protect communities targeted by hate, we are appalled by the Trump administration’s announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has provided protections from deportations and the ability to work and attend school for more than 800,000 young immigrants. The United States is home to these brave people.

Taking away DREAMers’ legal status and leaving them vulnerable to deportation is immoral and wrong. DREAMers are not bargaining chips to be used for political gain, and the further criminalization and persecution of the broader immigrant community is disgraceful. These individuals are not statistics; they are students, doctors, and veterans, they are hard-working members and leaders of communities, they are parents, friends, neighbors and loved ones. Tearing our communities apart makes no one safer.

We raise our voices in outrage at the President’s betrayal of DREAMers so that he may receive accolades and applause from the alt-right and other white supremacist groups. This action goes against our nation’s principles and the views and wishes of the majority of the country. We are in solidarity with all DREAMers now facing a nightmare of uncertainty because of today’s announcement. We encourage Unitarian Universalists and all people of faith and conscience to rise up and resist this latest attack on our immigrant siblings.

To all those directly affected by this decision, we recognize your humanity. You are part of the United States. We will defend your right to stay. We will continue to resist with you in the spirit of love and freedom.”