While President Donald Trump’s newest travel ban remains blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has instructed U.S. embassies around the world to toughen screening for visas, including mandatory reviews of social media accounts of some applicants.
Reuters reports diplomatic cables sent by the state department says visa applications for “populations warranting increased scrutiny” warrant the heightened screening process.
The first two cables, sent March 10 and March 15, were received before a federal judge in Hawaii ordered a temporary restraining order nationwide on Trump’s revised travel ban.
Additional cables were sent on March 16 and March 17, revising the previous instructions after courts had blocked the order.
Trump’s revised ban prohibits citizens from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from getting visas for at least 90 days, refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days. Iraq was included in the ban’s first version.
Tillerson also wants a mandatory review of social media accounts from any applicant who’s been in territory controlled by the Islamic State.
Immigration rights advocates criticized the guidelines, saying profiling people based on faith will not determine if the applicant actually presents a real threat.
“Most posts already have populations that they look at for fraud and security issues,” Jay Gairson, a Seattle-based immigration attorney, told Reuters.
“What this language effectively does is give the consular posts permission to step away from the focused factors they have spent years developing and revising, and instead broaden the search to large groups based on gross factors such as nationality and religion,” Gairson said.
Virginia Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state department’s bureau of consular affairs, said in a statement to Reuters it was working to execute the president’s ban “in accordance with its terms, in an orderly fashion, and in compliance with any relevant court orders, so as to increase the safety and security of the American people.”
During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump used the idea of reviewing a visa applicant’s social media profile as one of the items he would implement as president as part of an “extreme vetting process” to help reduce the threat of terrorists entering the country.
Judges who blocked the orders in January and again in March have said the bills are targeting people based on their religion.
The president has called the actions of those judges “judicial overreach.”
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