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. 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

Things That Matter

Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Police In Tulum Killed A Refugee By Kneeling On Her Neck And Mexicans Want Justice

Things That Matter

Police In Tulum Killed A Refugee By Kneeling On Her Neck And Mexicans Want Justice

So many of those attempting to reach the United States – or even Mexico in some cases – are already fleeing extreme violence, poverty, and fear. Refugees from Honduras and El Salvador (among other countries) are hoping to find a better life faraway from the corruption and danger that they face in their home countries.

But what happens when those same people fleeing violence in their home countries are met with state-sponsored violence on their journey to a better life? Unfortunately, at least one refugee, 36-year-old Victoria Esperanza Salazar, a mother of two teenage daughters, has lost her life while hoping for a better one.

Four police officers are in custody after the killing of a woman from El Salvador.

Four municipal police officers are in custody and under investigation for murder following the death of a Salvadoran woman who was violently pinned to the ground while she was being arrested in Tulum.

Video footage shows a female officer with her knee on the back of 36-year-old Victoria Esperanza Salazar, a mother of two teenage daughters who was living in Tulum on a humanitarian visa.

In the footage, Victoria, who was apparently arrested for disturbing the peace, can be heard moaning in pain and is seen writhing on the road next to a police vehicle as she was held down for more than 20 seconds. Three male police are also present, one of whom appears to help the female offer restrain Victoria. Footage then shows officers drag her limp body into the back of a police truck.

Many are comparing Victoria’s murder to that of George Floyd.

Many in Mexico are comparing Victoria’s death to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer, who also died pinned under an officer’s knee. Video shared on social media shows a police officer leaning on Salazar’s head and neck and she cries out, and then goes limp. Officers then drag her body into the back of a police truck.

Mexican officials have largely condemned the officers’ actions and the Attorney General said that the officers — three men and one woman — will be charged with femicide. The charge of femicide carries a penalty of no less than 40 years in prison. The police actions violated the national law on the use of force, the Attorney General’s Office said. 

Victoria’s death comes as millions of Mexican women demand that the authorities do more to combat gender violence in Mexico, where an average of 11 women are killed every day. Her alleged murder also occurred as Mexican authorities ramp up enforcement against mainly Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com