US: Census Bot Tweets Immigrants’ Profiles

(HRW) – Ongoing debates around US immigration policy should be squarely focused on the people whose rights and families are at stake, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch released an automated Twitter bot, @ImmigrantsAreUS, which is tweeting out profiles of some of the nearly 25 million non-citizens living in the US, both authorized and unauthorized, based on their responses to US Census Bureau surveys.

The bot tweets actual survey question responses from a random selection of non-citizens surveyed by the US Census Bureau between 2012 and 2016 in its annual American Community Surveys. The surveys ask non-citizens detailed questions about their ties to American communities, including about their families and households, living conditions, occupations, and working conditions. This data contrasts with rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and some members of Congress that casts immigrants as a drain on society, and scapegoats unauthorized immigrants as violent criminals.

“Congress and the president should craft immigration policies informed by reality, not harmful scapegoating,” said Alison Parker, US managing director at Human Rights Watch. “Our bot will randomly tweet out profiles every hour, showing elected representatives who is affected by their decisions to arrest, deport or legalize – many of them people with deep roots in the US.”

Administration policies based on false narratives increased immigration arrests from the interior of the country by 40 percent during the first eight months of 2017. People arrested at the border are more likely to be recent arrivals to the US, and therefore have fewer ties with the country, than people living further inland from US borders. Data show arrests of people without criminal convictions living in the interior have tripled compared with the same period in 2016.

In its first hours in operation, the bot tweeted out the following profile:

“I am an immigrant. I am a veteran. I live with 4 family members. I am a 43 year old male. 3 or more people in my household worked last year. I earned $16,800 last year. I work 36 hours per week. I live in Rep. Martha Roby’s state. #ImmigrantsAreUS”

A fact sheet released by the White House on January 30 presented its latest proposal for immigration reform. It requests increased funds for a border wall and immigration enforcement, proposes legal status for 1.8 million unauthorized people who entered the country as children, would end the diversity visa lottery, and would cut legal options by ending several types of family-based immigration. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have rejected the plan, for different reasons. The pressure mounts to address the uncertainty for the 800,000 former recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before the March 5 deadline that may cut off their right to stay in the US.

Human Rights Watch has recommended Congress pass a “clean” DREAM act to address this group, without adding other harmful immigration policy changes. Human Rights Watch has proposed rights-respecting immigration reforms, including overhauling US laws to takes into account the ties that bind deeply-rooted immigrants to the country.

The @ImmigrantsAreUS bot will automatically mine US Census data to tweet out one profile per hour of authorized and unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. The auto-generated profiles are likely to include the immigrants’ profession, salary, numbers of hours worked weekly, property taxes paid, US military service, family relationships, home ownership, and parental status. The bot will also identify a member of Congress from the state of residence for each immigrant profiled. It is modeled after, and built in collaboration with the creator of the @censusAmericans Twitter account. Additional profiles tweeted out by the bot in its first hours include:

Immigration reform.
Image Source: jvoves, Flickr, Creative Commons

“Our @ImmigrantsAreUS bot will remind officials of the real people and families with everything at stake in this debate around immigration policy,” Parker said. “A rights-respecting government builds its policies informed by facts, not fear. The Trump administration and Congress should have the courage to produce a fair and functional immigration system.”

Originally published by Human Rights Watch