On Oct. 18, a rule by the Department of Homeland Security, which allows the department to collect social media information of every immigrant in the United States, regardless of documentation, went into effect. This rule would also affect U.S. citizens who happen to interact with immigrants online by rendering their conversations vulnerable to government surveillance.
Now, I want to let this sink in for the reader to understand the magnitude of this new rule. Not only is this new rule broad enough to subject nearly everyone’s information to collection, but DHS also has the potential to surveil community organizations that work with immigrants. At UC Berkeley, DHS would be able to collect information of those who work in the Undocumented Student Program as well as the Educational Opportunity Program.
This is one of the reasons why I decided to participate in the social media campaign #DHSilences, started by the student organization Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education, or RISE I first saw RISE’s campaign on Facebook, where they shared photos of members of the campus immigrant community with tape over their mouths with “#DHSilences” written over. RISE urged immigrants, with or without documents, to share similar photos. Allies were asked to sign a petition and tell their representatives that they do not agree with the new rule. Although there is certainly a risk involved with revealing myself to be an undocumented person, I added my photo to their campaign to show that I will not allow myself and my community to be silenced.
Social media has allowed us to realize the extent of and rally against the injustices suffered by the undocumented community. I frequently scroll through Facebook pages for those who are in detention centers and are in the process of deportation. The pages showcase the immigrant’s story and ask the community to support them, which can include attending protests and court hearings to ensure the detainee’s release and their return to their families in the United States. Videos of harassment and the physical separation from families — orchestrated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — are shared widely online, allowing the families of those harassed and detained to raise funds for their release and building a platform for supporters who look to donate to the family or attend court hearings in solidarity.
Furthermore, allies of undocumented people can use social media to share the location of ICE checkpoints so members of the undocumented community know to avoid those areas or to be extra careful. At UC Berkeley, we have used social media to let students know locations of concentrated police presence on campus so those students who feel unsafe around police because of their legal status are able to navigate safely.
Community organizations such as the Undocumented Students Program here on campus, churches and legal centers have wielded the power of social media to offer legal services, health services and reliable information on the implications of new immigrant laws to a broader immigrant audience. But the new DHS rule threatens the ability of such centers to aid both immigrants and the larger community.
We have already witnessed the denouncement of progressive efforts like Black Lives Matter by the federal government. Such moves to criminalize minority groups and our allies are meant to do nothing more than silence our efforts to form coalitions, to survive. The DHS rule affects all of us and it is threat to the First Amendment, the very foundation this country is built on.
When the travel bans were first put into effect, people protested at airports. Now that social media is being targeted, we must harness the reach of the Internet to secure the safety and rights of all Americans.