International students living in the U.S. and immigrants that have resided here for a long time are subject to strict rules and regulations in order to remain in good standing with their foreign visas.
If you are an international student living in the U.S. or an immigrant that has resided here for a long time, you are probably well aware that there are some rules and codes of conduct that we must follow in order to remain in good standing with our foreign visas.
Some of these are fairly obvious, like don’t do anything illegal. Others include maintaining full-time student status (12 credits minimum), don’t accept a job off-campus without previous authorization from the school or immigration offices, and while being on your F-1 (student) visa, you may only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted. That is, don’t go changing schools without telling the right people about it.
An infringement of any of those rules could potentially cause the student to lose their status, and understandably so. However, a new rule has recently been added that has some up in arms about whether or not the government has finally crossed a line.
Though we already know that big brother is watching and nothing is really and truly private anymore, those in the U.S. on visas are no longer able to post whatever they wish on social media without risking deportation. Whatever happened to freedom of speech being a bedrock of the United States?
Last month news broke that Emadeldin El-Sayed, a 23 year-old Egyptian and Muslim flight student attending the Universal Air Academy in Los Angeles, got his I-20 (the document showing an institution’s support for a student to get an F1 visa) revoked after the flight academy saw a post he made on his personal Facebook. It was a picture of Republican Candidate Donald Trump along with a comment stating that he “wouldn’t mind serving a life sentence for killing this guy,” and that in doing so, he’d be “doing the world a favor.”
Without his I-20 (basically, without his school’s support), his student visa became invalid and therefore he was in violation of his terms of admission to the United States and thus here illegally.
Even though U.S. prosecutors didn’t charge him with an actual crime, El-Sayed was arrested by immigration authorities last month at the flight school he attended. After trying to deport him for being here illegally, authorities allowed him to return to Egypt voluntarily upon request from his lawyers as a way to avoid the black mark that deportation would have left on his record.
El-Sayed said he is “devastated at seeing his dreams of becoming a pilot dashed” over what his attorney acknowledged was a foolish social media post.
“Immigration officers are absolutely looking at social media,” said Danielle Claffey, an immigration attorney for Kuck Immigration Partners. “We’ve come to realize that, when it comes to immigration issues, the government will definitely use social media to investigate an individual.”
Claffey said that only five years ago, social media wasn’t on her radar in terms of immigration. Today, however, the internet is increasingly becoming a forum for security threats and terrorism that social media screenings are now a standard part of immigration investigations.
Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney from Kolken & Kolken Immigration Lawyers said that “immigration offices routinely review social media in making assessments of eligibility for immigration status, or alternatively, if they are planning on charging someone with a violation of immigration law.”
According to Kolken, the majority of things that immigrations officials review on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are evidence of fraud and illegal activities, as well as inconsistencies in testimony. He said that even a picture (whether posted by the individual or tagged by someone else) showing that person involved in drunken activities or taking illegal drugs can be enough for immigration authorities to deny a visa application. “I’ve seen that happen in the past, where the client had pictures of illegal activity” he told Vice. “The government brought print-outs from social media into court.”
This information comes shortly after the news that the Department of Homeland Security, at the urging of Congress, is “building tools” to “more aggressively examine” the social media channels of all visa applicants and people who are asking for asylum or refugee status in the U.S. for possible ties to terrorist organizations.
These security measures were implemented in February after last December’s San Bernardino shootings aroused concerns that the counterterrorism official’s efforts were not as “robust as they could be,” according to Francis X. Taylor, one of the top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security.
On the same front, El-Sayed told The Associated Press that the agent who interviewed him regarding the post he made about Trump also mentioned the shooting rampage by the Muslim married couple in San Bernardino and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were executed by Muslims who had sought flight training in the United States.
“It’s just a stupid post. You can find thousands of these every hour on Facebook and the media,” El-Sayed told The AP in a phone interview from jail. “I don’t know why they would think I am a threat to the national security of the United States just because of a stupid post.”
El-Sayed’s post was unwise and regrettably imprudent, especially in a time where security concerns in the U.S. are completely legitimate. However, posts made on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can hardly be taken seriously, especially taking into consideration the statements that Trump has made in the past about his views on immigration issues, such as his vow to build a wall along the entire Mexican border (and made them pay for it, without explaining how) and his wish to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the country.
Just this month, Ted Cruz told Jimmy Kimmel, “If I were in my car and getting ready to reverse and saw Donald in the backup camera, I’m not confident which pedal I’d push.” This came after Cruz said last month that police should reinforce patrol and security in Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. and likening it to increasing police presence in areas with known gang activity.
So if Cruz can joke about killing Trump on live television without fear of repercussions (and without fear of looking like a cretin, either), other people should be able to express their opinions freely as well.
Social media, after all, was created mainly as a way to connect with like-minded individuals, share opinions and rant (or as some people call tweeting, “shouting into the void”) to our heart’s content.
Certainly, posts online can reveal infinite information that can be used to identify potential terrorists, but according to the New York Times, the department of Homeland Security is faced with “an array of technical, logistical and language barriers in trying to analyze the millions of records generated every day.”
This new policy is flawed and it can easily lead people who pose no threat to national security to being detained. Guilty by association does not, in fact, make someone guilty. Nor does posting your beliefs, even if they are critical of America and it’s policies.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this case, it is one that you have probably heard countless times from your parents: everything you post online is forever and yes, anyone can and will read it. And no, it doesn’t matter that your accounts are private.
So be careful the next time you post that obnoxious joke— don’t say you weren’t warned.