President’s Creation of a National Vetting Center for Immigrants

President Trump issued a memo to streamline and optimize the use of federal government information in the national vetting process.  It directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish the center and streamline the vetting and flow of information within six months.  The presidential directive does not provide for any funding or new powers.  It remains unclear what will actually change in the immigration process.

The Center will focus mostly on applicants for visas outside the US, with a secondary focus on vetting foreign nationals already in the US and subject to deportation.  The potential for making decisions about immigrants in the US subject to removal is particularly controversial.  Anticipating this and other privacy concerns, the memo also calls for the establishment of a civil liberties panel, which will have some oversight over the National Vetting Center’s activities.

Trump has often mischaracterized and disparaged US vetting procedures, especially during the campaign when he stated that some individuals had entered the US without proper vetting.  In decrying the diversity visa lottery program, he wrongfully claimed that the randomly selected applicants do not undergo background screening procedures.

The Brennan Center for Justice has warned that extreme vetting involving the use of computer software that would allegedly predict the likelihood of immigrants committing terrorism runs the risk of denying entry to innocent immigrants and refugees. The Center noted that we already rigorously vet people traveling to the US and that this could be a pretext for excluding certain groups from the US, such as Muslims.