Tag: immigration

Tech companies file briefs supporting challenges to DACA withdrawal

Major tech companies are still voicing their support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protects undocumented immigrants that came to the US when they were children. President Trump decided to end DACA protections in September and while tech companies spoke out in support of DACA prior to and following that decision, many have now filed a document backing those that are challenging the president's move in court.

Over 100 companies have filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs in five ongoing cases aiming to reinstate the DACA program. Those plaintiffs include the University of California, the city of San Jose, Santa Clara county, as well as California, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota. The brief, which was signed by a number of tech companies, including Adobe Systems, Airbnb, Dropbox, eBay, Facebook, Google, IBM, Lyft, Microsoft, SpaceX, Twitter and Uber, argues that the decision to end DACA protections was not based on a valid legal argument and is therefore "arbitrary and capricious." It also states that its rescission will have a major impact on the US economy. In the brief, the signees state, " DACA's rescission will inflict serious harm on US companies, all workers, and the American economy as a whole. Indeed, our national GDP will lose $460.3 billion, and Social Security and Medicare tax contributions will be reduced by $24.6 billion, over the next decade."

In addition to this amicus brief, Apple also reportedly filed its own in support of a motion put forward by California's attorney general seeking to block the withdrawal of DACA.

Just before Trump announced his decision, hundreds of executives signed an open letter in support of DACA, many of which then went on to share their disappointment after it was dissolved. Last month, reports surfaced that companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM were planning to lobby Congress to pass legislation that would continue to protect DACA beneficiaries.

Whether these efforts will have any impact will remain to be seen, but it appears these companies aren't ready to back down just yet. In the amicus brief, they stated, "DACA is a concrete and essential example of America fulfilling its centuries-old promise to welcome people from around the world seeking a better and a freer life. And no group is more deserving of that welcome than the Dreamers."


Source: Amicus Brief

Fear of the US government led me to censor myself on Twitter

The day I've been dreading for months is drawing near. On October 18th, the Department of Homeland Security's modified system of records is scheduled to go into effect. The updated policy would affect all US immigrants, whether they are new, existing or permanent residents or even naturalized citizens, and how they are identified by the government. More accurately, it would allow the DHS, Border Patrol and other immigration authorities to collect social media handles as part of an individual's official record. As someone who's working in the US on a visa, I was immediately worried about how it would affect my standing.

The reason the DHS gave for the update is that it is beginning to conduct "more immigration actions in an electronic environment" and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is adjudicating "more immigration benefits and requests for action in its USCIS Electronic Immigration System." Basically, people are increasingly applying online, and the changes would reduce the existing reliance on paper records. What the DHS wants to do is be able to officially identify you by your online persona in addition to existing attributes like your name, birthday and address. The update would also add an individual's "country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" to one's records.

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement, "This amendment does not represent a new policy." The notice published on September 18th was "an effort to be transparent (and) comply with existing regulations" and "due to updates in the electronic immigration system." Multiple requests for clarity on what would change for immigrants -- whether they would have to fill out new forms asking for their social media handles or what would happen for those with private profiles, were not answered.

I was raised in Singapore, where political criticism can get you sued (if interpreted as libel), arrested (if seen as inciting violence) or even jailed. At my first full-time job, as a marketing executive for a local oil and gas company, my boss told me not to speak in meetings -- playing dumb was always better than potentially making a mistake, he said. For most of my life, I learned to swallow my feelings. My mother's mantra was "Keep your opinions to yourself," and she sternly repeated it as we made our way to family gatherings and social functions.


When I first came to live in the US, in 2008, I was surprised by how liberally people expressed themselves. I learned that individuals' thoughts have value but also, more important, that we are entitled to them. The notion of freedom of speech was new to me, but as I observed the thriving arts and culture in American society, I understood what liberty was worth. Just as people grow and improve by accepting and learning from different opinions, so a country flourishes by embracing and encouraging open discourse.

I got used to the freedom to air my thoughts on any topic in public forums like Twitter and Instagram. I still refrain from saying anything that would make me look insensitive or give away too much personal information, though. Part of me also continues to fear the wrath of the Singapore government; I worry about what could happen to me when I return to visit family should I unwittingly say something too critical. But for the most part I feel carefree. My posts tend to be a mix of my own articles, random musings, funny videos or frustrating stories about poor customer service and bad PR.

Something changed a few months ago, after I first heard of the DHS' plans to incorporate social media into its visa application process. I started to second-guess myself. I avoided weighing in on topics that would show my political leanings. I dutifully wished my followers a happy Fourth of July, shared the results of the Super Bowl and retweeted posts honoring the fallen victims of 9/11. I sent these tweets mostly out of goodwill, but a small part of me felt it was better to look like I participate in American activities.

I started posting what I imagined a immigration officer would like to see, rather than show an unfiltered version of my thoughts. Truth is, Chinese New Year matters more to me than Fourth of July does, and I didn't really care if the Patriots won. I love America, and I love many of its festivities and people, but I can't change the fact that I grew up elsewhere. And honestly, I shouldn't have to.

I continued to tweet, trying mostly to stay on neutral topics. Occasionally, I let myself express anger at institutions or people, but I only feel safe ranting about issues that people agree on regardless of political views.

I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

But it's what people don't see that I found the most telling. I agonized over whether to soften a jokingly violent tweet about New York's subway system. I didn't want someone to come across those thoughts, assume I was serious, and decide I'm a dangerous individual. Who knows what an immigration officer might think? Eventually, I toned down the language and added qualifiers like "I guess" to make it clear I was merely musing.

There are times I've avoided posting altogether. I kept quiet during the white nationalist rally in Virginia and generally don't comment on things Donald Trump does. But things came to a head when I found myself holding back from sharing negative tweets about American gun laws and political gridlock after the Las Vegas shootings. As my feed filled up with statistics showing how the US and its (lack of) gun control policies have led to massive loss of lives, I longed to retweet and share. But I didn't. Instead, I vented in private messages to trusted friends. I felt like I was back in Singapore.

I'm torn. I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

Maybe I'm being paranoid. A DHS spokesperson said the agency already does "and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland." They might already know everything they need to about me from years of unfiltered tweeting. But when your job, life and future depend on how strangers in some government agency perceive you, wouldn't you be careful too? Yes, my profile is public and anyone can already access it and judge me. But it's one thing to allow random people online to decide if they like you -- it's almost debilitating when your beliefs or personality are used to officially determine if you can visit a country.

The good news is, based on the thousands of comments on the proposal's forum, an overwhelming majority of people are against the upcoming update. Many of them argue that the move would be a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. Some even claim this is a slippery slope toward a Big Brother–like future with the government monitoring the social media of citizens and immigrants alike. It's still unclear exactly how the changes would affect us, or how they are new, given the vague responses from the USCIS and the DHS. At this point though, my social media is no longer an accurate representation of the person I actually am. It's some facade I've created for the powers that be. Which really makes monitoring it useless anyway.

Americans are horrified by DHS plan to track immigrants on social media

Starting October 18 the Department of Homeland Security will collect and store "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" in the permanent files of all immigrants. This will include new immigrants, in addition to permanent residents and naturalized citizens.

There are around 43 million foreign-born people living in the US right now. And even if you don't personally know someone who'll be made into a terrifying dossier for Trump's anti-immigrant footsoldiers, you'll most certainly show up in those millions of files somewhere as a "like" or other piece of tangential social metadata.


People who have commented on the Act are comparing it to round-up lists and interment camp dossier building. Considering the Trump administration's plans for using data to hunt immigrants at our borders, those commenters might not be too far off. And what they don't know is that non-immigrants are going to be collateral damage.

The "Modified Privacy Act System of Records" will also include: "publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements." Commercial data suppliers are companies like Equifax, and "people search" vendors like Intelius and Axicom.

That "people search" websites are involved in the data collection should make use worry for many reasons. With a quick search of your name on any given "people search" website like Intelius or WhitePages, you'll see your name, date of birth, names of family members, current and past addresses, your phone number -- and much more.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office (USCIS)

People search sites get their data from public records and corporations selling your information to them (including third-party fine print agreements you agree to by using businesses such as eBay). The information they collect sometimes depends on the site's Terms of Use regarding sharing information with third parties, as well as your privacy selections on that site (e.g., your Facebook likes and interests, your friends, your tweets, the work information you provide to LinkedIn).

The new dossiers on immigrants will include all kinds of information gleaned both directly and indirectly from social media profiles. And worse yet, much of the information might not even be accurate. In a now-removed post from Intelius's blog, the company stated:

In a new age of modern permanent records, popular sites like Facebook and Twitter are the face of a hidden world of commercial data brokers. Moreover, not all information is accurate, and even if consumers are aware, they are unable to erase or correct their personal records.

Intelius conceded in a 2009 SEC filing that the information that it and similar companies sell is often inaccurate and out of date. For example, when I reviewed my people search files before deletion, my first-ever roommates were listed in multiple places as my nearest relatives.

Assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, told press, "The fact that information gleaned from Facebook or Instagram or other social media networks might not be reliable doesn't mean that it will preclude DHS from using it as a basis for excluding people from the United States."

If you're still wondering what might be in these dossiers, go check out an article on The Guardian in which a woman gets a copy of all 800 (!) pages of her Tinder history (an option only available to EU citizens). It's not what's in her Tinder history that applies here, rather it's what that history contains about a person's activity around that one account that will sober you up.

In addition to her Tinder activity, the company collected her Facebook "likes," her photos from Instagram (even after she deleted the associated account), and much more.


The Act itself avoids detailing both the method of collection, and security of storage for these expanded dossiers. Perhaps we can expect the DHS and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to protect these records, which will undoubtedly include plenty of US citizens, as thoroughly as it safeguards its other precious data stores.

The US government tried for a while to convince the public that the "metadata" in its Hoovering up of our records was no big deal. At RSA in 2015 Congressman Mike Rogers told the giant security conference's attendees more than once that metadata in bulk surveillance collection "is just the 'To: From:' like the front of an envelope." I suspect we can expect the same kind of run-around (or worse) if this administration is put on the spot.

It's going to be messy, and make no mistake: It will affect all of us. Chances are good that you have friend, co-worker, or family member born outside of the US. Attorney Adam Schwartz told BuzzFeed that this will also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants. A close read of the document shows that finding out what is in one's file will be incredibly difficult and correcting any bad info nigh impossible.

It's kind of like they're leveraging Facebook, and all the others, into policing our borders in a wholly different way than a blunt-force "Muslim ban." It's far, far more insidious.

The "Modified Privacy Act System of Records" is set to go into effect on October 18th, though it's in an open comment period until then. The comments so far are overwhelmingly opposed to the changes; the words "horrified," "shocked," and "appalled" are frequent.

Some commenters openly state fears about how this affects their children, others talk about where this is leading us as citizens at the mercy of a data-grabbing government. And there are more than a few mentions of 1930s Germany and Japanese internment.

This is happening. Americans and those who want to be Americans are scared. Those affected by the DHS plan to gather social media aren't stereotypes: they're people, and they're us. It's easy to feel disempowered by this disgusting system, and the overwhelming juggernaut of greedy data-dealers like Facebook -- at whose feet I believe we can squarely lay blame for way too many aspects of our current situation.

But I hope that we'll all look at this hideous and contorted future together, and fight it.

Images: BoJorge Duenes / Reuters (border wall), Getty Images (USCIS), Mike Blake / Reuters (Tinder icon)

The DHS plans to monitor immigrants’ social media accounts

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently posted a new rule in the Federal Register set to go into effect next month. The update is largely to note that certain government electronic documents are also part of immigrants' official records as the DHS "moves to conducting more immigrant actions in an electronic environment." However, the DHS is also adding new categories to official records including "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results." And the collection of social media information isn't limited to new immigrants but will apply to all immigrants including permanent residents and naturalized citizens.

This move is certainly not out of the blue -- incorporating social media information into immigrant records in one way or another has been a topic of conversation for a while. In 2015, the DHS began working on a plan to add social media searches into visa application protocol and in 2016 it proposed and implemented a new section in the travel form for foreign visitors coming to the US under the visa waiver program that asks for social media handles. In February, the DHS announced that it was planning to start asking visitors from Trump's travel ban list of countries for not only their social account names, but their passwords as well. And in March reports came out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered social media checks on all visa applicants who had visited ISIS-controlled regions. Additionally, after proposing the plan in May, the Trump administration introduced an expanded visa applicant questionnaire in June that asks for all social media handles used in the last five years.

In regards to the new DHS rule, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Adam Schwartz told BuzzFeed, "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."

The new rule is open for public comment until October 18th when it will officially be implemented.

Via: ThinkProgress

Source: Federal Register, BuzzFeed

Tech CEOs sign letter urging Trump to keep immigrant protections

Hundreds of CEOs have signed an open letter urging President Trump not to dissolve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Started in 2012 under the Obama administration, DACA allows undocumented immigrants who arrived to the US before they were 16 years old to obtain work permits and protection from deportation. Those with DACA permits have to renew them every two years and nearly 800,000 immigrants have benefited from the program.

"All DACA recipients grew up in America, registered with our government, submitted to extensive background checks, and are diligently giving back to our communities and paying income taxes," said the letter. "More than 97 percent are in school or in the workforce, 5 percent started their own business, 65 percent have purchased a vehicle, and 16 percent have purchased their first home. At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees."

Among those who have signed include tech bigwigs like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Warren Buffett. CEOs, founders and representatives from Airbnb, Dropbox, eBay, Fitbit, Foursquare, GoFundMe, LinkedIn, Lyft, Netflix, Netgear, Pandora, Tesla, Tumblr and Uber have also signed.

Highlighting just how much DACA recipients contribute to the US economy, the letter stated, "Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions."

Trump was vocally against DACA during his campaign and is largely expected to cancel the program by September 5th -- a deadline Republican lawmakers set for the president to make a decision. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president hasn't yet made a final decision, but will announce one on the 5th.

Via: Variety

Source: FWD.us

EFF says border control needs a warrant to search your tech

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has submitted a court filing arguing that federal agents at international airports should obtain a warrant before snooping through passenger laptops, phones and other digital devices. Warrantless border searches are currently permissible under an exception to the Fourth Amendment, but as EFF notes, the number of these searches has more than doubled since President Trump moved into the White House.

In a new court filing, EFF argues that since digital devices hold so much highly personal information, "agents should be required to show they have probable cause to believe that the device contains evidence of a violation of the immigration or customs laws", and even then border agents should only be able to examine digital contents after a judge has signed off on a warrant.

The filing also sought to clarify search guidance issued by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency in July, which restricted border searches to locally-stored data. As EFF points out, distinguishing between local data and cloud-based data isn't necessarily straightforward, and cloud data can "appear as a seamless part of the digital device when presented at the border".

EFF filed its brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in US v. Molina-Isidoro, a case that saw Maria Isabel Molina-Isidoro's cell phone manually searched at the border and the data used to support a prosecution for attempted drugs smuggling.

"Our cell phones and laptops provide access to an unprecedented amount of detailed, private information, often going back many months or years, from emails to our co-workers to photos of our loved ones and lists of our closest contacts," said EFF staff attorney Sophia Cope. "This is light years beyond the minimal information generally contained in other kinds of personal items we might carry in our suitcases. It's time for courts and the government to acknowledge that examining the contents of a digital device is highly intrusive, and Fourth Amendment protections should be strong, even at the border."

Via: TechCruch

Source: EFF

Automated English visa test struggles to understand English

An Irish veterinarian's application for an Australian visa has been rejected after she failed to pass an automated English proficiency test, despite completing it in her native language of... English. Louise Kennedy, who has two degrees (both obtained in English), wanted to apply for permanent residency in the country on the grounds of her job, which is classed as a shortage profession. Despite acing the reading and writing parts of the test she didn't score highly enough on oral fluency, as it seems the machines couldn't understand her accent.

The Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is an automated system that asks applicants a number of questions and records their vocal responses which are analyzed and scored. The Australian government demands a score of at least 79 points. Kennedy scored 74.

Speaking to The Guardian, Kennedy -- who is now considering other options for staying in the county -- said: "There's obviously a flaw in their computer software when a person with perfect oral fluency cannot get enough points." Yet Pearson categorically denies there's anything wrong with its test or scoring engine, noting that Australia has very high immigration requirements (and President Trump is full of admiration for Prime Minister Turnbull's stance on the issue).

In light of Germany's recent announcement that it plans to use voice recognition to identify refugee origins, Kennedy's struggle throws into question the viability of relying on automation for this purpose. It's one thing when an accent means Siri doesn't understand mundane commands, but entirely another when people's futures are at stake.

Via: Gizmodo