Federal Immigration Office Using Google Translate To Investigate Immigrants' Social Media Posts

Photo: Matt York (AP)

An internal document from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is instructing agency officers to use “free online language translation services” like Google Translate to investigate refugees’ non-English social media posts. The document, published by ProPublica, declared that using these services is “the most efficient approach” to sifting through refugees’ posts.

In a section of the document’s “Appendix C” under the heading “Internet Translation Services,” the agency’s document says:

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.

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if needed. Use the following steps to translate using Google:

Then the document proceeded to breakdown HOW TO USE GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Workers at a government agency responsible for choosing whether to admit or not admit immigrants is being told how to use an incredibly intuitive service to the ends of vetting refugees.

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The document was given to ProPublica by the International Refugee Assistance Project after a public records request.

When asked about the use of these tools to vet refugees, USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins told ProPublica that reviewing social media “is a common sense measure to strengthen our vetting procedures.”

However, these translation tools aren’t meant to account for nuance in speech or necessarily interpret slang correctly, which makes it extra worrisome that federal workers responsible for vetting immigrants are using it as a workaround during the vetting process. Read the full report from ProPublica here.

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