House Dumps Trump's Immigration Bill, Deep-Sixing A Sizable Increase In Border Surveillance

from the doing-us-all-a-solid-despite-themselves dept

Despite the President demanding — via Twitter — that House Republicans pass the “strong but fair” immigration bill, the House Republicans did not, in fact, pass the muscley but attractive immigration bill. The bill would have diverted $25 billion to Donald’s Folly and steeply decreased the number of immigrants the nation is willing to extend citizenship to. It may have done a little good by providing another route to citizenship for children brought into the US by illegal immigrants, but that would have been undone by the removal of time limits for the detention of accompanied children.

So, it was a hearty blend of bad and worse. There were compromises made to push the few centrists onto the “aye” side but what was offered wasn’t enough to sway the middle ground and wasn’t harsh enough to satisfy the anti-immigration hardliners. The bill will be back again eventually, but there’s no telling what will be added or subtracted before the next push to the president’s desk begins.

However, there is a silver lining — at least for those concerned about the ability of the border to swallow everyone’s rights. As the EFF noted, the House’s rejection of this bill meant no increase in border-related surveillance, snooping, and data harvesting.

The bill contained a slew of authorizations for border agencies to get all up in everybody’s everything the moment they hit a checkpoint.

The bill calls for increased DNA and other biometric screening, updated automatic license plate readers, and expanded social media snooping. It also asks for 24 hours-a-day, five-days-a-week drone surveillance along the southern U.S. border.

This bill would give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security broad authority to spy on millions of individuals who live and work as far as 100 miles away from a U.S. border. It would enforce invasive biometric scans on innocent travelers, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

As is noted in the EFF’s write-up of the immigration bill, this extensive surveillance wouldn’t be limited to those people lots of Americans mistakenly believe have zero Constitutional rights. It would also affect US citizens — the sort of people everyone agrees have Constitutional rights.

And the additions were problematic from more than the civil liberties standpoint. There’s been a rush to harvest biometric data, but it’s being done without proper oversight, public input, or even the required Privacy Impact Assessments. Facial recognition, in particular, is a technology known to provide a ton of false positives for every successful “hit,” raising the probability of wrongful arrests, detainments, and deportations.

Allowing the CBP to engage in even more drone surveillance (and not limiting where the CBP’s drones can be flown) makes little sense considering the DHS Inspector General found the drones the CBP were operating were mostly useless and far from cost effective. All this would do is encourage the agency to spend more money faster with almost no return on investment.

The bill would also have codified DHS’s on-again, off-again social media screening of visa applicants. The DHS admitted it does not have the legal authority to screen social media accounts of legal US citizens, but an expansive snooping program would certainly allow CBP to perform backdoor searches of US persons’ communications should any visa applicant be in regular contact with American citizens. The codification would have retroactively forgiven DHS’s sins and given it full authority to turn the visa application process into fishing expeditions for bored border agents.

The defeat of the immigration bill is a small victory on several fronts, but the mindset of many of its opponents appears to be that it doesn’t go far enough towards creating some sort of DMZ between us and our southern neighbor. That Trump seems intent on portraying our apologetic neighbor to the north as some sort of safe haven for “bad hombres” (“bad hombrehs”?) is more than a little disconcerting, as the only previous aggression we’ve observed was detailed in the late John Candy’s last comedy. This, however, might explain why the “papers, please” demands of CBP officers can be heard echoing in such unlikely places as New Hampshire and Maine. All we can do is hope the next attempt at shoving an immigration bill through doesn’t include a few billion to brick up the northern reaches of Montana and send a flotilla of Coast Guard interceptors to the Great Lakes.

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