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Trump Calls for National Vetting Center to Screen Immigrants

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After calling for “extreme vetting” of immigrants on the 2016 campaign trail, President Trump signed a national security memorandum Tuesday to establish a national vetting center to streamline immigration procedures.

USA Today reports:

The National Vetting Center will be run by the Department of Homeland Security with assistance from the intelligence community and the departments of State, Justice and Defense.

Its mission: To “collect, store, share, disseminate, and use” a broad range of information about people who seek to enter the United States, with a goal of identifying people who may be a threat to national security or public safety.

“This is yet another step towards knowing who is coming to the United States — that they are who they say they are and that they do not pose a threat to our nation,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement.

The memorandum gives the agencies six months to establish the center. Despite the goal of streamlining immigration, what will actually change in the immigration process remains unclear.

One of the center’s more controversial aspects is the potential to make decisions about immigrants already in the country who may be facing deportation proceedings. CNN reports:

Anticipating concerns from civil liberties groups, the memorandum will also establish a standing privacy and civil liberties panel, which will have some oversight over the National Vetting Center’s activities. The membership of that panel will also be determined during the six-month period. …

Trump has repeatedly pointed to the need for tighter immigration controls, amplifying his calls in the wake of terrorist attacks—even when the terrorist in question was born in the US or was radicalized after entering the United States.

Trump has also repeatedly mischaracterized US vetting procedures, suggesting during the campaign and into his presidency that some individuals have entered the US without proper vetting. In railing against the current US visa lottery program, Trump has suggested individuals are randomly selected for entry to the US, leaving out the background screening procedures they must first pass.

Trump has called for extreme vetting often during his presidency. After a truck attack that killed eight people in Manhattan last October, he tweeted, “I have just ordered homeland security to step up our already extreme vetting program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

Many computer scientists protested the Trump administration’s version of extreme vetting at the time: computer software that would allegedly predict the likelihood of immigrants committing a terrorist attack. The scientists warned that such a system ran the risk of denying entry to innocent immigrants and refugees. The Brennan Center for Justice warned that such vetting could be another way of framing the goal of keeping certain groups of immigrants out of the country, such as Muslims. Prior to Trump’s memorandum calling for the creation of the vetting center, the travel ban targeting immigrants from majority-Muslim countries was the main immigration vetting policy undertaken by the administration.

Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center, said, “We already rigorously vet people traveling to the U.S., so it is unclear what value such a center would add. In all likelihood it is simply another means of implementing the administration’s unnecessary and discriminatory policies, such as so-called ‘extreme vetting.’ “

According to CNN, the vetting center will be overseen by a board of governors that is likely to include Cabinet members.

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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