Bennet Calls for Social Media Background Checks in Visa Screening Process

Urges DHS to Immediately Require Social Media Checks for All U.S. Visa Applicants

Washington, DC - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined 21 other senators in calling for the Department of Homeland Security to immediately require social media background checks as part of the screening process for all foreigners seeking an American visa. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the senators also requested more information from the agency on the existing screening process, such as if the agency faces any resource barriers to implementing these background checks, to ensure the process is as rigorous and comprehensive as possible.

The letter comes in the wake of reports that the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her fiancé -- the male attacker and a U.S. Citizen -- ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf.

The letter was led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and also signed by: Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Gary Peters of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Barbara Boxer of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Angus King of Maine, and Tom Carper of Delaware.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

December 15, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016

We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that critical background information of individuals participating in American visa programs has been largely omitted from the visa security screening process.

According to recent reports, the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her U.S. citizen fiancé, the male attacker, ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf. Media reports have also indicated that Department of Homeland Security officials are able to conduct social media background checks as a part of certain immigration programs, but are doing so inconsistently. We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS's vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible.

Therefore, we request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous screening process:

• Do you plan to integrate social media background checks into the screening process for all visas?
• Do you face resource and/or technical barriers to ‎implementing these background checks? If so, please describe them.
• Does the Administration conduct social media background checks in any of the existing screening processes for visa programs? If so, please describe how they are conducted.

Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation's visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world.

We look forward to working with you to establish a more robust social media background check process for all visitors and immigrants to the United States.

Sincerely,

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