US Lawmakers Want to Use a Powerful Spy Tool on Immigrants and Their Families

Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the Section 702 program “invariably” intercepts communications between foreigners and their American family members. Using the program for vetting purposes means committing to “entirely suspicionless searches” of both, he says.

Andy Wong, a director of advocacy at Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of community-based groups, has called out Democrats specifically for supporting the move, labeling it a “betrayal” of the Latino and Asian American communities. “We need leaders who dismantle systemic racism,” Wong says, “not entrench policies that leave us more exposed, separated, and vulnerable.”

Turner, the HPSCI chairman, said Sunday on Face the Nation that his committee had a bill to extend the 702 program endorsed by, among others, Jim Himes, the committee’s ranking Democrat. Turner accused lawmakers not onboard with his bill of misunderstanding how the program works and its “value and importance” to “national security.”

ACLU’s Hamadanchy tells WIRED that it would be concerning to see Himes and other Democrats endorsing use of the program against immigrant communities. “It would represent a dramatic expansion of the current vetting practices,” he says, “and it would be disappointing if it is something Congressman Himes has signed on to.”

Himes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turner said Sunday that he’d already gained the support of the SSCI chairman Mike Warner, a Democrat of Virginia, who introduced his own 702 bill last week. Warner’s bill also includes language that expands the 702 program to “enable the vetting of non-United States persons who are being processed for travel to the United States,” but does not mention visas or green cards.

Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty & national security program, calls Warner’s proposals unnecessary. “There are already plenty of vetting mechanisms in place to ensure that visitors to this country don’t pose a threat to national security or public safety,” she says.

“People should be able to vacation, work, or study in the United States without opening up their private communications to US government scrutiny,” Goitein adds.

Although the text of his bill is not public, much is already known about Turner’s aims. Last month, the HPSCI released an outline of its proposals describing, among other so-called “reforms,” an amendment that would allow the government to search the 702 database “for the purpose of screening and vetting immigration and non-immigrant visa applicants.”

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