US border agents are checking people’s Facebook pages for their political views before allowing them into the country, an immigration lawyer has claimed.
Houston-based lawyer Mana Yegani said several green card holders, who have the right to live and work in the US, were detained by border agents at American airports hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigration from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The ban affect travellers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and also extends to green card holders who are granted authorisation to live and work in the United States, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman.
Ms Yegani, who works with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (Alia), said she and her fellow lawyers had worked through the night fielding calls from people with legitimate visa being detained before entering the US or ordered back on flights to the Muslim-majority countries on the list.
In one alleged incident a Sudanese PhD student at Stanford University in California, who has lived in the US for 22 years, was held for five hours in New York and in another a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen was not allowed to board a flight in Ottawa.
The Alia said border agents were checking the social media accounts of those detained and were interrogating them about their political beliefs before allowing them into the US.
She said: "These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here.
"Just because Trump signed something at 6pm yesterday, things are coming to a crashing halt. It's scary."
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
1/8 Trump and the media
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during the daily press briefing
2/8 Trump and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Union leaders applaud US President Donald Trump for signing an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC
3/8 Trump and the Mexico wall
People protest against US President Donald Trump's inauguration next to a fake wall with a Mexican national flag and a dummy representing him in Mexico City
4/8 Trump and the Mexico wall
A US Border Patrol vehicle sits waiting for illegal immigrants at a fence opening near the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. The number of incoming immigrants has surged ahead of the upcoming Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, who has pledged to build a wall along the US-Mexico border
5/8 Trump and abortion
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks on in the Oval Office of the White House
6/8 Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline
Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York. US President Donald Trump signed executive orders reviving the construction of two controversial oil pipelines, but said the projects would be subject to renegotiation
7/8 Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline
US actress and political activist Jane Fonda attends a rally with opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York
8/8 Trump and 'Obamacare'
Nancy Pelosi who is the minority leader of the House of Representatives speaks beside House Democrats at an event to protect the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles, California. The Republican-led US Senate has launched their much-anticipated effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act by passing a budget blueprint which would allow them to begin rolling back the health care reforms
A spokesman for the Alia told The Independent that they had heard were anecdotal reports of people’s social media accounts being targeted – this tactic had been used by border agents for several years despite doubts over whether it is constitutional.
It comes as several immigration organisations and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLA) launched a lawsuit in New York on behalf of two Iraqi men, one a former US government worker and the other the husband of a former US security contractor.
It said they had been given visas to enter the US but were detained at JFK airport hours after Mr Trump issued the executive order.
Meanwhile in Cairo, five Iraqis and one Yemeni passenger were barred from boarding a connecting EgyptAir flight to New York and were redirected to flights back to their home countries, despite holding valid visas.
Dutch airline KLM said it had similarly refused carriage to seven passengers from Muslim countries because there was “no point taking them to the US”.
The order, signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, means Syrian refugees have been banned from entering the country indefinitely – though the White House has said it will consider admitting Syrian Christians – and the entire US refugee programme has been suspended for 120 days.
Nationals from the six other countries on the list have been banned from entering the US for 90 days.
The move has been condemned by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration who said: “The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the US resettlement program is one of the most important in the world,”
“The longstanding US policy of welcoming refugees has created a win-win situation: it has saved the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world who have in turn enriched and strengthened their new societies.”
Additional reporting by Reuters