What Is The National Vetting Center? Trump Is Creating A Whole New Office To Screen Immigrants
The president's calls for "extreme vetting" from the 2016 campaign trail are actually finding a home in 2018: a new "National Vetting Center" that the Trump administration says will streamline the process.
According to CNN, the center will be a place where Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, Justice Department and intelligence agencies coordinate on vetting visa applicants, immigrants, and others that want to enter the United States of America. It will also focus on some people already in the country.
Despite the new physical center — which must be set up in six months, according to a memorandum that Trump will sign Tuesday — any actual changes to the process remain unclear, despite the goal of streamlining things. According to administration officials, the goal is to improve communication among the various agencies in charge of the process.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect is the center's potential to make decisions about people already in the country who are facing deportation decisions. To counter potential objections from civil liberties groups, a "standing privacy and civil liberties panel" will be established to oversee the center's activities, CNN reported. Who will sit on the panel will be decided during the six months it takes to set the center up.
The center itself will be run and governed by a board that will likely include Cabinet officials, one of the officials told CNN.
Trump's calls for "extreme vetting" have come at nearly every possible juncture, particularly after terrorist attacks. Most recently he called for it after the truck attack in New York City that killed eight last October. "I have just ordered homeland security to step up our already extreme vetting program," Trump tweeted. "Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!"
After that call, computer scientists and tech experts came out publicly against what had been the Trump administration's version of extreme vetting at the time: computer software that would predict the likelihood of immigrants committing a terrorist attack using artificial intelligence. They argued in November that it ran the risk of deporting or denying entry to innocent immigrants, refugees, and others looking to visit the United States.
In October, the Brennan Center for Justice argued that the calls for "extreme vetting" were just another way to frame the goal of keeping certain people out of the country, like Muslims. Until the creation of the National Vetting Center, the main policy undertaken will have been the Muslim Ban, which is now currently facing Supreme Court scrutiny.
"This approach, which is part and parcel of a broader anti-immigrant agenda, is inimical to American economic interests and fundamental values," the Brennan Center report argued. "It should be rejected as both unnecessary and harmful."
The way that the current system works is a bit of a mystery to many, but it's considered to be quite rigorous. Exactly how it works depends for what reason a person is entering the United States. Someone applying for a tourist visa, perhaps the most lax option (for those that need visas), would start the process online. Their answers would then be checked with a terrorism database.
From there the individual would undergo an interview with a State Department consular affairs expert at an embassy abroad who would explore the possibility of the person overstaying their visa, committing a crime, or even being involved with terrorism. Then a visa is issued, or not, based on that interview. For high-risk countries, the Department of Homeland Security may also get a say.
For refugees, who Trump has specifically targeted, the process is even more difficult. The National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, DHS, Defense Department, and the State Department all have to sign off on an applicant.
The new center may streamline these processes, but how it will change them remains to be seen.