Shaheen Leads Letter to DHS Calling for Social Media Background Checks in Visa Screening Process
24 Senators join Shaheen’s letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson, urge social media background checks on individuals seeking US VisasDecember 15, 2015
(Washington, DC)—This afternoon, Senator Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson urging his agency to immediately conduct social media background checks as a part of the screening process for U.S. visa determinations. The letter was signed by 24 of her colleagues in the Senate and follows reports that the Department of Homeland Security didn’t identify radical social media statements made by the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, during her fiancé visa determination process.
“ISIS and other radical terrorist organizations are using social media as one of their primary channels for inspiring hate and coordinating attacks,” said Shaheen. “The recent attack in San Bernadino underscores the vigilance that’s needed when determining whether to approve visa applications. A review of applicants’ social media activity should be at the very top of the checklist for DHS personnel.”
Senator Shaheen’s letter to Secretary Johnson reads in part, “We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible….Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation’s visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world.”
The letter was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Mukulski (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
The full text of the Senate Democrats’ letter can be found below:
December 15, 2015
The Honorable Jeh Johnson Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016
Dear Secretary Johnson:
We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that critical background information of individuals participating in American visa programs has been largely omitted from the visa security screening process.
According to recent reports, the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her U.S. citizen fiancé, the male attacker, applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf. Media reports have also indicated that Department of Homeland Security officials are able to conduct social media background checks as a part of certain immigration programs, but are doing so inconsistently. We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible.
Therefore, we request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous screening process:
- Do you plan to integrate social media background checks into the screening process for all visas?
- Do you face resource and/or technical barriers to implementing these background checks? If so, please describe them.
- Does the Administration conduct social media background checks in any of the existing screening processes for visa programs? If so, please describe how they are conducted.
Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation’s visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world.
We look forward to working with you to establish a more robust social media background check process for all visitors and immigrants to the United States.
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