Muslim Advocates Criticizes State Department’s Invasive Visa Questionnaire Proposal

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Muslim Advocates submitted a public comment to the U.S. Department of State to condemn its decision to make an invasive supplemental questionnaire for visa applicants a long-term part of the application process.  The questionnaire is discriminatory, invasive, and burdensome, and does not strengthen national security. Instead, it effectively undermines the freedom of every American.

Though the notice does not explicitly state that consular offices will target Muslim travelers, President Trump has made it abundantly clear that such targeting is exactly the intent behind his “extreme vetting” initiative.

As the comment states, “the Muslim community will thus be subjected to highly sensitive and targeted questioning with little strategic benefit returned to the United States.  For the sake of maintaining a border security program that is smart, effective, and efficient, Muslim Advocates urges OMB to reject the Department’s proposal to make the supplemental questionnaire an enduring part of the visa application process.”

The comment also highlights the burdensome impact of this questionnaire for all parties involved: “[W]e believe that the proposed supplemental questionnaire, no matter how well-intentioned, will be more of a hindrance than an asset to legitimate counterterrorism activities.  To begin, it will overload consular offices worldwide with additional information to sift through that is of dubious value and vulnerable to misinterpretation.  Such information gathering may even be duplicative, given that the Department of Homeland Security has announced that it, too, will be collecting social media information of all immigrants entering the United States.   It is unclear how the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security plan to coordinate their information collection efforts, whether or how they will share their collected information (and conclusions derived from it), and whether or how they will avoid needlessly collecting and analyzing multiple iterations of the same information from the same visa applicants.”

According to Matthew Callahan, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, “As we have said before, this policy asking for applicants’ social media handles as part of the application process is based on anti-Muslim animus and will lead to greater discrimination against Muslims who seek to travel to the United States.  It does not advance national security; instead, it normalizes unnecessary profiling of Muslims and persons who appear to be Muslim.”

The law firm of Covington & Burling LLP assisted with the drafting of the comments.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.