Things That Matter

US Immigration Officials Are Using Google Translate To Read Migrant’s Social Media Posts Instead Of Hiring Actual Translators

The Trump administration’s cruel and unjust immigration policy continues to permeate every aspect of the refugee admittance infrastructure. The International Refugee Assistance Project and ProPublica shared internal documents from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that revealed the organization uses online translators to review refugees’ social media posts. A practice that is problematic in and of itself, only made worse by unreliable machine translation tools. 

The organization argues reviewing social media posts is “common sense” vetting, while human translators, language experts, and immigration advocates strongly disagree. Many feel poor translations can be make or break for refugees who are in dire need of admittance into the U.S., and even Google concedes their best tools are no substitute for human translators. 

Advocates expose USCIS for using Google translate to vet refugees’ social media posts.

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) obtained an internal manual used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency responsible for admitting immigrants. IRAP released the manual to ProPublica who revealed the manual advises officials to use free online translation services from Google, Yahoo, and Bing. While the document is mostly redacted, the visible parts show a step-by-step process for using Google Translate. 

“The most efficient approach to translate foreign language contents is to utilize one of the many free online language translation services provided by Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines.” the manual states. 

“It defies logic that we would use unreliable tools to decide whether refugees can reunite with their families,” Betsy Fisher, strategy director at IRAP, told ProPublica. “We wouldn’t use Google Translate for our homework, but we are using it to keep refugee families separated.”

Even Google says Google Translate is unreliable.

In the company’s disclaimer, they urge users to remember Google Translate is no substitution for a human translator. 

Users should be aware, “reasonable efforts have been made to provide an accurate translation, however, no automated translation is perfect nor is it intended to replace human translators.”

The issue with poor translations is, simply put, the stakes are too high. Online translators cannot capture the subtleties and nuances of language that a fluent or native speaker can. Yet, officials rely on these poor translations to determine the fate of refugees. Particularly when slang is used, the government takes the risk of misinterpreting innocuous comments as being harmful or threatening. 

“It’s naive on the part of government officials to do that,” said Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. “I find it deeply disheartening and stupid and shortsighted, personally.”

USCIS defends “stupid and shortsighted” policy.

You might be asking yourself: why are they looking at refugees’ social media posts in the first place? 

 “Social media reviews include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, along with general internet searches (e.g., Google). Social media checks are designed to identify publicly available information in applicants’ social media postings that may impact eligibility for their immigration filing,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“This could include information related to their claim for refugee status, information indicating potential fraud (such as identity fraud or document fraud), or information regarding criminal activity or national security concerns that would impact eligibility and admissibility. USCIS may only look at publicly available information and will respect users’ privacy settings.”

As ProPublica points out, in 2017, Facebook apologized after it translated a Palestinian man saying “good morning” as “hurt them” in English, and “attack them” in Hebrew. It’s so transparently racist, you almost want to laugh. 

USCIS admits they’re wrong but continues to be a mess. 

ProPublica claims an undated draft of an internal USCIS document, published by the Daily Beast, states their pilot social media program found that, “automatic foreign language translation was not sufficient.” 

In another review of the pilot conducted in 2016, USCIS found that  “native Arabic language and subject matter expertise in regional culture, religion, and terrorism was needed to fully vet” two cases to determine if there was truly threatening information. 

Online translators have failed Latinx people before.

In 2017, a Kansas highway patrol trooper conducted a warrantless search of a Mexican man’s car by using Google Translate to ask for consent in Spanish. The U.S. district judge threw out the evidence gathered in the search, determining the man did not understand the officer’s commands or questions. 

Language requires more than an understanding of grammar and vocabulary, it requires cultural literacy, an understanding of satire and irony, and knowledge of slang. Under the Trump administration, social media auditing has increased to the extent that visa forms require applicants to include social media handles. This is a part of a disturbing trend in which citizens’ and non-citizens’ freedom of speech is being counted against them. 

More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

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More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Across a network of more than 200 migrant prisons and municipal migrant jails, the US government is detaining roughly 18,000 people at any given moment. And that’s not including the more than 12,000 minors who are held in other facilities under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s.

And amid this network of for-profit private prisons and government-ran detention centers, migrants are constantly being shuffled around – often without little notice to their lawyers and even family.

This time, the agency is accused of moving more than 700 women without notifying their lawyers, family, or anyone else.

According to attorneys from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), ICE has moved more than 700 women out of a Texas detention center. And ICE gave their lawyers zero way of locating them, which is especially damning considering many of the women face serious medical conditions.

Starting on Sept. 20, the women being held at the Karnes County Residential Center were sent to other centers around the country so that the facility could be used to detain families. More than two weeks later, their lawyers from RAICES have no idea where the majority of these women are being held, and they can’t find any updated information in ICE’s online detainee tracking system.

Many of these women have serious medical conditions and not being able to advocate for their health could have fatal consequences.

“I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen,” Meza said. “I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention.” 

The situation highlights a common problem for migrants in ICE custody: They can be transferred between facilities with little notice and yet their new locations are not promptly updated in the system. If their existing lawyers and family members can’t find them, they may have to go through their cases without legal representation, especially in remote areas where legal counsel is sparse. And those with serious health issues could die if advocates who don’t know where their clients were transferred are unable to fight for their right to medical treatment. 

According to ICE, advocates shouldn’t worry because “adequate medical care is being provided to all detainees.”

An ICE official told HuffPost that “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody” adding that staffing includes registered nurses, licensed mental health providers, a physician and access to 24-hour emergency care. The official acknowledged that the women at Karnes had been transferred to other facilities, but did not explain why their locations were not showing up in the online system.

But given the deaths that have occurred in ICE facilities and the overall cruelty towards people in their custody, few people trust ICE’s ability to care for migrants.

At Karnes, some of the immigrants were allegedly being denied lifesaving care, such as cancer and HIV treatment, and that suicidal patients were not receiving psychiatric counseling. One woman with cancer in her uterus said she had not received medical treatment for more than two months. Another immigrant, who is HIV positive, said she was not getting her medication or being evaluated by a doctor, even as her symptoms worsened.

The lack of medical care in immigrant detention facilities is well-established. Eight immigrants have died in ICE detention centers this year, and six minors have died in Border Patrol centers, in many cases because they didn’t receive proper medical help for their illnesses. 

Technically there’s no legal requirement for ICE to inform detainees’ lawyers that they are being transferred. 

According to Andrea Meza, Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, ICE is not at all required to inform anyone when a detainee is transferred to a new location.

There is one exception: ICE is mandated to provide notice of transfer for Salvadorans, per the Orantes Settlement Agreement — but only Salvadorans.) Otherwise, Meza says, “There’s not really anything that requires them to give us notice as to where our clients are.” 

But even if ICE did update the platform used to track migrants in their custody, lawyers said it’s rarely that reliable.

It can take up to a few weeks for someone who is transferred to a new facility to show up in the system, which means families are often left wondering whether their loved ones have been deported back to life-threatening situations in their home countries.

“I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains,” Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigrant rights attorney told HuffPo.  

Of the women RAICES has been able to locate, some are being housed at a private prison in Mississippi that the Justice Department found so poorly-managed it issued a scathing 65-page report detailing its problems. The Federal Bureau of Prisons to ended its contract with the prison earlier this year, but now immigrant women are being sent there. 

This Migrant’s Rights Group Wants To See A Mass Exodus Of ICE Employees And They Are Launching Programs To Help

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This Migrant’s Rights Group Wants To See A Mass Exodus Of ICE Employees And They Are Launching Programs To Help

John Moore / Getty Images

It seems like every week news breaks that their has been another death of someone in ICE’s custody or the agency is embroiled in some new scandal or cruel policy targeting migrants. One organization has finally had enough and is urging ICE employees to stage a mass exodus from organization.

Never Again Action is a group dedicated to preventing another holocaust and they have been very vocal in their attacks against ICE and the agency’s cruelty. Now, the group is taking their advocacy to the next level and is offering support to ICE employees who want to leave their roles and find different work.

Never Again Action is offering ICE employees dedicated, free career help if they quit their job at ICE.

An immigration advocacy group has launched a new website offering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement workers seeking to leave the embattled agency free and anonymous career support.

The Never Again Action group’s Atlanta branch launched the website, saying it wanted to put out the call for a “mass exodus and atonement” for ICE workers “as we approach Yom Kippur.”

With the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, taking place on Tuesday, the group said it was the perfect time for ICE workers to “quit your jobs.”

The organization claims they’ve already had one ICE employee seek their help in leaving their role with ICE.


According to Never Again Action, the immigration advocacy group that launched the service, at least one ICE agent has already come forward to ask for help quitting their job and finding a new one.

“We’ve already had one ICE agent reach out to us,” the group, which was organized by Jewish community members in the U.S. determined to “never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” said in a tweet on Monday.

The organization is moving to help avoid another holocaust by ridding the government organization of employees, according to their platform.

Branding the U.S.’s treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees an “atrocity,” the website tells ICE workers: “You don’t have to work for ICE. We will help you find a better job. You don’t have to be complicit in the atrocities happening at our nation’s border and within our immigration system,” it states.

“We know quitting your job isn’t always easy, so we’re offering FREE and CONFIDENTIAL job search support so you can find a better job,” the website continues, before outlining how it will help ICE workers change their career paths.

The organization also appears to be making good on its word to help agents do just that, setting up a career support website that will match ICE workers with a “qualified career adviser.”

While it makes clear that organizers cannot guarantee ICE workers a new job, their volunteer career advisers are “dedicated to supporting you through the job hunting process so you can quit your ICE job quickly.”

The organization is offering qualified career advisors with MBAs, professional career counseling, or professional recruiting experience. And, according to their website, ‘every advisor is dedicated to giving you the support you need to find a new, better job quickly.’

“We know it’s easy for protesters to chant ‘quit your job,’ but that it’s a lot easier said than done,” the website states. “We know you have bills to pay, and might have family members relying on your salary or health benefits. That’s why we’re providing this free and confidential service: to help you find a new and better job, so you can quit your ICE job as quickly as possible.”

In a statement, ICE expressed disappointment and disgust at the organization’s initiative.

ICE sent a statement to Newsweek, ICE Acting Press Secretary Bryan Cox struck out at the initiative, calling any attempt at “demonizing career law enforcement officials…disgraceful.”

“ICE holds its personnel to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior, and ICE employees will continue to carry out their duties professionally regardless of irresponsible rhetoric that needlessly spreads fear and misinformation that does a disservice to the communities these groups claim to represent,” Cox said.

But many aren’t buying into that narrative and recognize the grave atrocities committed by ICE against migrants.

From workplace raids that left children alone and afraid to denying basic necessities to those already in their custody and even the deaths of dozens of people, ICE is in desperate need of reform. Even those who aren’t necessarily calling for abolishing ICE, recognize that there is a great need for major institutional reforms.