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. 

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Honduran Woman Gave Birth On Bridge Between U.S. And Mexico Border But What Will Happen To Them Next?

Things That Matter

Honduran Woman Gave Birth On Bridge Between U.S. And Mexico Border But What Will Happen To Them Next?

Julio César Aguilar / Getty Images

As the number of parents and children crossing the border continues to increase, driven by violence and poverty in Central America, many are growing desperate while being forced to wait in migrant camps in Mexico. While crossings have not reached the levels seen in previous years, facilities that hold migrants are approaching capacity, which has been reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is forcing many to check the status of their claims by crossing into the U.S. to speak to border agents. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more women are being forced to give birth in less than ideal situations – putting at risk both the lives of the mother and child.

A migrant woman gave birth on a bridge between U.S.-Mexico border.

According to Mexican border authorities, a Honduran woman gave birth on the Mexican side of the border bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. The woman was apparently trying to reach the U.S. side, but felt unsteady when she got there and was helped by pedestrians on the Mexican side waiting to cross.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said the birth occurred Saturday afternoon on the Ignacio Zaragoza border bridge, also known as “Los Tomates.” It said authorities received an alert from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials regarding “a woman trying to enter the country improperly.”

It said the woman was taken to a hospital in Matamoros, where she was given free care. Her child will have the right to Mexican citizenship.

Hernández is hardly the first woman to give birth while hoping to cross into the U.S.

Just last month, a woman gave birth along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. She had just crossed the river and her smugglers were yelling at her to keep moving as U.S. Border Patrol agents arrived. But she couldn’t continue, fell to the ground, and began to give birth.

The mother and her her daughter are safe and in good health. “They treated me well, thank God,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name used because she fears retribution if she’s forced to leave the country, in an interview with ABC News.

“There’s so many women in great danger,” Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, told ABC News. “They must really think before they do what they do and risk the life of their unborn child.”

Like so many other women, Hernández was waiting in Mexico under Trump’s cruel immigration policies.

Hernández was reportedly among about 800 migrants sheltering in an improvised riverside camp while awaiting U.S. hearings on their claims for asylum or visas. Other migrants are waiting in Matamoros, but have rented rooms.

Thousands of other migrants are waiting in other Mexican border cities for a chance to enter the U.S. — some for years. The Trump administration has turned away tens of thousands at legal border crossings, first citing a shortage of space and then telling people to wait for court dates under its “Remain in Mexico” policy.

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This Virtual Posada Aims To Help The LGBTQ Migrant Community And They Need Your Help

Things That Matter

This Virtual Posada Aims To Help The LGBTQ Migrant Community And They Need Your Help

Juan Zanella Gonzalez / Getty Images

For many Latinos, the word posada, evokes holiday celebrations surrounded by family and friends, singing, enjoying a warm meal (of tamales and ponche, of course), and spreading holiday cheer all around. Obviously, this year’s posadas will look very different but it’s more important than ever that we continue with traditions.

Posadas are steeped in the history of Mary and Joseph’s quest for safe refuge where the Virgin Mary could safely give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. Given our current government’s cruel and anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, the story of Mary & Joseph rings true with many people hoping to find a safer, better home in the United States. This is especially true for LGBTQ migrants who face unique challenges in both their journeys to the U.S. and their asylum experience.

Enter the LGBTQ Center Orange County. The center has proudly stood up to help the community in powerful and life-changing ways and their annual Queer Posada is one of the most important.

The LGBTQ community faces unique challenges in their quest for asylum and settlement in the U.S.

Credit: Lino de Jesús Herrera / Getty Images

LGBTQ detainees across the country have shared harrowing experiences of being mocked or tortured for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Many others have been sexually assaulted while in ICE custody or while waiting for their asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border. And transgendered and HIV-positive detainees have both been denied medically necessary healthcare that has posed a risk to their lives.

Migrant advocacy groups and several lawmakers have demanded that ICE release all LGBTQ detainees and anyone with HIV in the agency’s custody, because the government has repeatedly failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care to them.

And Southern California is home to the nation’s largest undocumented community, which means organizations like the LGBTQ Center Orange County have their work cut out for them. However, the center has proudly stood up to help in powerful and life-changing ways.

Meet JB, who was detained at Adelanto Detention Center and relied on the help of the LGBTQ Center Orange County.

JB, who identifies as a transgender man, was a detainee at Adelanto Detention Center. While in custody he was denied access to his hormone therapies which had negative effects on both his physical and mental health.

JB credits the LGBTQ Center Orange County with saving his life. The Center was a consistent advocate for JB and helped provide much-needed cash and weekly visits.

You can hear more stories from LGBTQ migrants who have been helped by the LGBTQ Center Orange County’s countless programs by following our Snapchat account, which will feature more important voices.

The LGBTQ Center Orange County offers so many important programs that help migrants out in extraordinary ways.

So often, LGBTQ migrants make the journey to the U.S. alone and, therefore, don’t have the family support (neither financial or emotional) that’s so important. But that’s where the LGBTQ Center Orange County comes in to help fill that void.

Volunteers and employees of The Center do so much for the community: from attending numerous events throughout the year to educate and provide much-needed resources or sending $20 to a detainee so they can have a filling meal, to helping advocate for the end of the partnership between Santa Ana Police and the Orange County Sheriff with ICE, to providing weekly citizenship classes to those who need them.

The LGBTQ Center Orange County has also been a leader in assisting eligible residents with their DACA applications, which is a cause close to the hearts of Luis Gomez and Jonatan Gutierrez – both DACA recipients who work with the LGBTQ Center Orange County.

And now it’s our turn to give back at the LGBTQ Center Orange County’s posada.

Obviously, this year’s posada tradition looks very different but the LGBTQ Center Orange County is working to keep the tradition alive by taking it online and making it free for all to attend. However, it is a critical fundraising event that enables the center to do all that it does for the LGBTQ migrant community across Southern California. 

And the work the center does is so important because it shouldn’t just be on detainees to speak out. All of us as part of the LGBTQ and migrant communities should support those in detention and speak out about the injustices they’re suffering in detention.

Donations from the Queer Posada will go toward the center’s LGBTQ Immigrant Fund. The unrestricted funds meet multiple needs from bonds, commissary funds, airline tickets to immigration filing fees. The center has also distributed checks to LGBTQ community members who have been severely impacted by COVID-19. You can get more information and RSVP for this free, virtual event here.

Plus it’s going to be a fun and free event that you won’t want to miss.

Not only will you be able to virtually hang out with members of the community and leaders from the LGBTQ Center OC but there will also be a spirited round of lotería, a raffle, and a live performance by the LGBTQ Mariachi Arcoíris de Los Angeles.

During the Queer Posada, their will also be an exclusive screening of the nearly 15-minute Before and After Detention documentary, followed by a Q&A with the director Armando Ibañez. The film follows three trans women who were released from detention centers. Angela, Fernanda and Gladys live in Los Angeles, while their asylum status is pending. In the documentary, they talk about their lives in their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico and being detained in the U.S.

The LGBTQ Center Orange County’s Queer Posada is taking place this Saturday, December 12 at 6 p.m. on Zoom, and is an important event for both the LGBTQ and migrant communities, one that you do not want to miss!

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