A(nother) New Immigration Plan
Late this March, the Trump administration announced a proposed immigration plan to substantially increase the vetting of the social media accounts of individuals applying for immigrant and non-immigrant visas to come into the United States. The plan consisted of requirements for the vast majority of applicants to submit five years’ worth of social media history. This means that those applying for most visas for entry to the U.S. would have to submit the usernames, emails, handles, or any other identifying information for all of the predetermined accounts required for examination by the U.S. Government.
The proposed social media vetting plan would have few exceptions. The two primary categories of incoming immigrants would include those entering the United States for diplomatic reasons, as well as individuals applying for visas for official purposes. However, other incoming individuals, including those applying for permanent U.S. residencies, would be subject to the extensive proposed vetting process. The plan, which comes with the stipulation of a 60-day grace period intended to gauge public opinion prior to its full implementation, carries with it an array of legal implications.
The Legality of Legality
From a legal standpoint, proponents of such a program argue the potential that this vetting process would have for preventing crime on a long-term basis. Theoretically, if the vetting process for incoming migrants is more stringent, encompassing individuals’ casual social media presences, then those who might have a history of criminal behavior or of threatening ideology would be less likely to enter the country legally. Generally, those who advocate for this plan do so on a basis of presumably higher safety upon its implementation. Proponents of this program often cite the San Bernadino shooting as an example, as one of the shooters had a history of jihadi-sympathizing on her social media profiles. This documented extremism was not vetted by the U.S. government and, consequently, no red flags were raised about her political and ideological involvements leading up to the shooting.
At the same time, this plan is countered by a variety of arguments. As far as the argument centering around criminal behavior, those who oppose such policies argue that they would encourage an increase in illegal immigration, thereby negating any positive steps that this policy would take towards immigratory criminal reform. Furthermore, since a milder social media vetting program was hinted at by the Obama administration, its opponents have criticized the measure from a civil legal perspective. These arguments are generally connected to the vetting of social media profiles as invasions of the privacy of individuals. They also encompass the notion that such extensive analyses of social media profiles would dramatically decrease the likelihood that individuals gain entry into the country. From a humanitarian perspective, the policy raises concerns that individuals living in dangerous, unstable, or otherwise unsafe areas may be barred from having the opportunity to enter the United States.
The Sides of the Coin
The announcement of a social media vetting plan a few days ago has already instigated significant debates over the humanitarianism, practicality, and legality of such a policy. Although plausible legal arguments exist on both sides of this question, only the general trend of public opinion will determine the feasibility of its long-term implementation. Whether this particular program is written into law or not, there is no doubt that significant developments, for better or for worse, are being made in the field of immigration law in the United States, perhaps more so now than in a long time.
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