File photo from 2013 showing thirty-seven U.S. Service members from 22 different countries taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan, July 4, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Anita VanderMolen/Released)

Earlier this week, Gizmodo reported that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was tracking the social media accounts of immigrants to the US, including green card holders and naturalized citizens. We reached out to DHS, but it took the agency days to get us any substantive answers. And now DHS says that nothing about the policy is new.

There are still a number of questions that remain but DHS insists that the policy, which was just announced in the Federal Register last week, actually dates back to 2012. The agency did not explain why the policy was just being published now, only saying that it was necessary under the Privacy Act.

In an email from DHS:

The notice did not announce a new policy. The notice simply reiterated existing DHS policy regarding the use of social media. In particular, USCIS follows DHS Directive 110-01 for the Operational Use of Social Media. This policy is available on DHS’s public website and was signed on 6/8/2012.

This policy permits a small cadre of specifically trained USCIS officers to access publicly available social media as an aid in determining whether an individual is eligible for an immigration benefit. The notice does not authorize USCIS to search the Internet history of these individuals. Furthermore, the notice does not authorize USCIS to search the social media accounts of naturalized citizens; rather, it simply restates USCIS’ authority to search publicly available social media information of individuals applying for naturalization and informs the public that this publicly available information will be stored in the applicant’s alien file.

One of the most alarming things about the policy published in the Federal Register was the notice that it applied to not only new immigrants, but also to existing Green Card holders, as well as naturalized citizens. But if you believe DHS, (and that’s admittedly hard to do with President Trump in charge), naturalized citizens who went through the process before 2012 won’t have their social media accounts actively monitored by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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People are justifiably concerned about the treatment of immigrants to the US right now. The Trump regime has shown time and again that it’s hostile to immigration, even of the completely legal kind. For instance, Trump is set to announce a policy that would cap America’s acceptance of refugees at just 45,000 people next year, the lowest in many years.

And with ICE becoming even more aggressive in its harassment of immigrant communities, people have reason to be afraid. Even as patriotic Americans troll ICE’s anti-immigrant hotline, the whole situation is no laughing matter.

If we believe DHS (and again, that’s really hard to do in 2017), the agency is only monitoring publicly available information. Which one would expect as a reasonable course of action for making sure that terrorists don’t enter the United States. But it certainly leaves plenty of concerns when anti-Muslim white supremacists like Donald Trump are in charge.

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We’re really going to find out how resilient America’s institutions are, as President Trump continues to make the US a much more dangerous place to live.