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April 28, 2018

Tight scrutiny


April 28, 2018

Spring break. It’s a vacation I am getting used to now that I have school-age children. I figure I’ve got 10 good years before my older daughter will start college and spending spring break with me will be the last thing she’ll want to do. We visited Disneyland – along with what felt like a million other people – and I realized the place is really a series of terminally long lines. Standing in those lines gives you an opportunity to listen to languages and accents from all over the world.

It made me appreciate just how tourist-dependent many entertainment attractions in this country are.And if we believe that US Department of Commerce figures for the first part of 2017 represent any kind of trend, then the crowds we’re seeing these days might well be on the decline. The Commerce Department report showed that international travel to the US was down more than 3 percent during the first seven months of last year, causing the US to cede its spot as the world’s second most popular destination for foreign travel.And how does the Trump administration respond to this disturbing course as we approach the critical summer travel season? It takes steps that would make it even tougher for visitors to come.

In March, the administration proposed a new rule to collect social media handles, including user IDs, from everyone applying for a non-immigrant visa to come to the U.S., around 14.7 million people.

I believe tourism is down in part because of the current global perception of the US, which under the leadership of Donald Trump has not been a place to admire. On top of that, the administration last year began applying “extreme vetting” to certain groups of tourists, which also included collecting social media information. The Obama administration had started collecting such data toward the end of 2016; Trump kicked it up a few notches.

Now, through this proposed rule, the US State Department would ask non-immigrant visa applicants for identifiers they’ve used on social media platforms over the previous five years.“The Department will collect this information from visa applicants for identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards …”

It applies to all non-immigrant visa applicants, which include those seeking work and student visas, as well as people visiting for humanitarian reasons.I believe this simple sentence is going to have some far-reaching ramifications. What standard will be used? Can posting a meme criticizing the president, for example, result in a visa denial? Will they make arbitrary assumptions about religious extremism if one posts something about, say, religious holidays?

We already have a Muslim ban, and as we’ve seen with this administration, arbitrary and capricious decisions are the norm – not the exception.Generally, when someone is denied a tourist visa, there is no appeal. There is no one to complain to or from whom to seek redress. Though you can apply multiple times, it will be hard to overcome those initial decisions.

Using social media information to determine the entirety of one’s eligibility and worthiness to visit the U.S. is misguided. Our presence on Instagram and Twitter is not the truest reflection of who we are. And, more importantly, those who actually have ill intent toward the US are unlikely to state it publicly on their Facebook pages.

Yet, this is where we are. It is unreasonable and wrong to inquire into people’s personal lives by requiring them to provide their social media handles. Such scrutiny will affect people traveling to the US for work, for business, for tourism, or simply to visit family, and ultimately will deter people from wanting to come here at all. And who would blame them?

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Tourists, Beware: Trump Administration Wants Your Social Media HandlesBefore You Travel’.


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