The Department of Homeland Security has announced it plans to keep files on the social media activity of immigrants. But Homeland Security officials say this is nothing new. The agency says, it has been collecting social media information on immigrants for years.
“DHS, in its law-enforcement and immigration-process capacity, has and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland,” Joanne Talbot, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement.
In the notice published in the Federal Register, DHS says the records it stores include “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the branch of DHS that handles immigration applications, has files on foreigners applying for visas and for citizenship. That includes lawful permanent residents, or green card holders.
What DHS is not announcing is that they are reviewing social media as part of the background investigation when people are filing for K-1 Fiancé(e) visas and Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Cards). Although it’s difficult to find out exactly how extensive the powers of the Department of Homeland Security are, many comments made by immigration officials, for example to immigration lawyers at conferences and meetings, suggest that your privacy settings don’t matter – they can look at whatever you’ve posted on social networks.
And they’ve gone poking through people’s social network pages, though it’s not automatic or always done. For example, DHS officials report that they’ve found instances in which the applicant for a marriage-based green card (lawful permanent residence) state on Facebook that their marital status is “single” – a fact that weighs against the applicant.
The other ways an applicant could raise doubts or concerns in the mind of immigration officials are endless – posting lots of photos of fun times with friends but not with one’s U.S. citizen spouse, bragging about having engaged in criminal activity (don’t laugh, criminals have been arrested based on such disclosures), mentioning illegal use of drugs, failing to say a thing about one’s wedding despite having posted about every other major and minor incident in one’s life for the past year, and so on.
Please remember that social media is not private. Avoid posting anything on social media you would not want shared with the world. If you are applying for any immigration benefit, look at what you are posting and see if it will help or hurt you.