Message To Congress: STOP DHS's Digital Muslim Ban

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The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is urging all those who value their privacy rights and want the United States to be a welcoming and just nation to tell congress to push DHS to halt its proposed “Visa Lifecycle Vetting” program (Digital Muslim Ban) and prevent all taxpayer dollars from funding it.  

Last January, when President Trump issued the executive order also known as the Muslim Ban, it included a little-noticed provision calling for every visitor to the country to be screened for whether they (1) would be “a positively contributing member of society,” (2) would “make contributions to the national interest,” or (3) intend to commit a crime or terrorist act. Not only is there no legal definition for these terms, but anyone wishing to enter the United States already undergoes extensive background checks.

American Muslims are disproportionately targeted for surveillance initiatives. For example, our nation’s watchlists overwhelmingly target American Muslims. Further, a recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that American Muslims are concerned about their place in society. The EVI program or the Digital Muslim Ban would only further institutionalize the isolation of an already disenfranchised community.

According to the “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims” report , New York, and neighboring states, Muslims no longer feel safe going to their local Mosques. Ahsan Samad, a 26-year-old Brooklyn resident said “’I used to go to the Masjid (Mosque) quite a lot. That stopped as soon as they (the NYPD) knocked on the door” (p. 14). Khaled Refat, 24, a New Jersey resident said, “I can’t grow my beard, I’ll get in trouble. I can’t dress like this, I can’t talk like that…It’s stressful” (p.15). 

In June of 2017, public documents for an “Extreme Vetting Initiative,” now called the “Visa Lifecycle Vetting,” revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the law enforcement arm of DHS,  wanted to automate determinations of  a “ national security threat” by using machine learning. ICE is also looking to run its Digital Muslim Ban on an ongoing, continuous basis - from the moment of visa application to the time a visa holder leaves the country. By September 2018, ICE will start mandating that its contractor flags a minimum of 10,000 deportation investigations and/or visa denials a year.

In a coalition letter sent November 16, 2017, CAIR joined more than 50 civil society organizations and technical experts to urge DHS to stop the program due to concerns of discrimination and the chilling of free speech. Additionally, a group of prominent technologists advised, “no computational method can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.” There is no consensus on what constitutes a “positively contributing member of society,” an ill-defined characteristic ICE will be using to “vet” immigrants coming into and already in the United States. 

The background document on fbo.gov advises potential contractors that they will need to review a wide range of online sources to make these determinations, including “media, blogs, public hearings, conferences, academic websites, social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, radio, television, press, geospatial sources, internet sites, and specialized publications.” The broad scope of this program raised significant concerns about its impact on both visitors to the United States and the American citizens and residents with whom they correspond and collaborate. 

All of these documents, as well as additional background information, are available on the Brennan Center's resource page. 

The Digital Muslim Ban is a serious threat to due process, civil liberties, and would inevitably chill free speech. CAIR urges congress to do everything in its power, including prevent funding, to stop this ill-considered, un-American and unconstitutional effort. 

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