June 21, 2024

US Immigrants And Families To Come Under Greater Scrutiny

Lawmakers in the US are pushing for expanding surveillance powers to include foreign visitors as well as immigrants, a move that can affect millions entering the States. The decision, deemed significant yet controversial, was proposed by both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

It aims to leverage Section 702, a powerful foreign intelligence program, to vet and screen individuals at the border of the country.

Currently, this section empowers the government to compel companies operating in the US to wiretap communications of foreigners abroad, even when they communicate with individuals within the country’s borders.

Lawmakers suggested using a powerful spy tool to impose greater scrutiny on these immigrants.

Incidentally, the surveillance program will be expiring on 1st January 2024, and so far, it has helped authorities collect lots of data on the individuals. These include texts, calls, and emails, which the authorities store in a searchable database that intelligence agencies can access.

The Proposed Legislation Targets A Broader Population

Although the proposed legislation has not been introduced in the House yet, it goes beyond targeting spies and terrorists. It has a broader scope, which includes nonimmigrant visa applicants, asylum seekers, and those seeking green cards.

In the past, this Section was criticized for unauthorized use — it attracted the attention of political activists and protesters demanding racial justice.

Thus, individuals entering the US need to undergo a more stringent vetting mechanism.

The controversial move has gained bipartisan support, with Representative Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio and House Intelligence Committee chair, stating that Jim Himes, his Democratic counterpart, will be backing him.

According to critics, this move will have a profound impact on civil liberties and privacy. Particularly, the concern revolves around the warrantless searches of the 702 program along with broad criteria for targeting.

According to a declassified report showing communications under Section 702, some highly sensitive and personal interactions were presented.

The messages detailed communications between “loved ones, friends, medical providers, academic advisors, lawyers, or religious leaders.”

The Proposed Expansion Sparks Outrage From Civil Rights Groups

Following the proposed expansion, outrage has been sweeping through civil rights groups. Particularly, the ones advocating for Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian American communities seem concerned.

Immigrants having international connections are at a greater risk of getting their communications intercepted under the 702 program.

According to a senior policy counsel at the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Kia Hamadanchy, the concern lies in the inevitable interception of communications between American family members and foreigners.

He used the term “entirely suspicionless searches” while describing the approach. Advocates like Andy Wong from Stop AAPI Hate criticized the Democrats for supporting the decision. It is perceived to be a betrayal of the Asian American and Latino communities.

The proposed legislation has also come under criticism for its delays in the complex immigration system that is already overwhelmed. With more than 2 million cases still pending in immigration courts and the adjuration period of more than 4 years for each case, the expansion is feared to add further burden to asylum seekers and other vulnerable population groups.

Supporters argue that the proposed extension will strengthen national security. On the other hand, opponents believe that the existing vetting systems are adequate. With the controversial bill moving through the legislation, the debate over balancing individual privacy and national interest intensifies.

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