UC Berkeley immigrant students protest Trump administration’s social media surveillance

Selena Pérez/Courtesy

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After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a rule allowing immigrants’ federal files to include their social media handles, UC Berkeley immigrant students led a social media campaign to protest the policy Wednesday.

As first reported by Buzzfeed News, DHS said the rule, which became effective Wednesday, was published in an effort to increase transparency regarding policies and to comply with regulations of the Privacy Act. Monitoring immigrants’ publicly available social media accounts is not a new policy, however, according to DHS.

A spokesperson for DHS could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Following the enactment of the amendment, campus student organization Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education, or R.I.S.E. at Berkeley, posted pictures of members of the campus immigrant community with black tape covering their mouths and the hashtag #DHSilences to defy the DHS policy, inviting other immigrants to do the same. The organization’s Facebook post, which included more than 35 black and white photographs of immigrants with taped mouths, has more than 200 shares.

“This (policy) is a direct violation of our human right to freely express ourselves, and limits the way we as immigrants can advocate for our community,” R.I.S.E. at Berkeley said in its Facebook post.

The organization also posted a link, removed from the post as of press time, to urge allies of the immigrant community to submit comments on the Federal Register page to voice disagreement with the policy.

Undocumented UC Berkeley junior Selena Pérez, who participated in the social media campaign, explained that the undocumented community often uses social media to alert people that someone is being deported to mobilize the community and support the person in court. One of these accounts, Pérez said, is the Instagram account Undocumedia, which also shared R.I.S.E. at Berkeley’s photos protesting the DHS amendment.

“Undocumented people form coalitions through social media,” Pérez said. “The new law is an attack on those communities that we’ve made online.”

Pérez said she used to find comfort through social media because she could share her story as an undocumented immigrant. She said she now believes it was “naive” for her to think that her social media activity wouldn’t harm her.

Lily Woo, a UC Berkeley alumna and refugee rights advocate at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, agreed that the DHS policy is an attack on immigrants’ ability to communicate openly online. She added that it is worrisome that social media surveillance by DHS has been in place for so long without public knowledge.

“Social media and the internet is such a new, radical place where people can get personal,” Woo said. “To now have this policy that really is openly censoring, that is violent and a total form of silencing people.”

Contact Hannah Piette at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.