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State Department Clarifies Extreme Vetting of Visa Applicants

In a series of memorandums sent to U.S. embassies, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered a glimpse of what President Trump's promised "extreme vetting" will mean for visa applicants when put into practice.

Mar 25


The strengthened screening procedures instruct consular officials to develop criteria for identifying "populations warranting increased scrutiny," according to a March 17 cable obtained by Diplomatico.

The cable does not offer further definition for the "population sets" it refers to in its instructions. Among those warranting deepened scrutiny are applicants who have ever been "present in an ISIS-controlled territory." Those who have must undergo a mandatory review of their social media accounts.

The State Department's instructions also call for what it calls "interagency counterterrorism screening," procedures "designed to effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the United States."

The instructions were laid out in four memos sent over the course of a very tumultuous week for President Trump's immigration policy. The State Department sent the first on March 10, according to Reuters, just days after Trump signed his revised executive order on immigration.

That order temporarily barred citizens from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. — adopting a slightly narrower scope than his first travel ban, which had been put on hold in federal court.

Yet the second, revised version ultimately met the same fate as the first, blocked nationwide by two separate federal court rulings the day before it was set to take effect on March 16.

The first of these messages set forth lengthy preliminary measures on how to implement the executive order, laying out questions and advising the introduction of additional screening measures according to the "conclusions of the interagency working group mandated" by Trump's order. The second, much briefer message rescinded much of that March 15 memo.

While none of the memos delves deeply into detail on procedures, they are already receiving pushback from advocacy groups. "Amnesty International has sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling on him to publish the messages he sent to embassies about this,"

The human rights organization decried the memos' reference to "population sets," calling it a

"license for discrimination based on national origin and religion."

But, the paper notes, that program does not apply to citizens from the Middle East or Africa, the regions covered under Trump's two suspended travel bans.


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