President Trump’s confusing, chaotic executive order against travelers arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries has prompted federal agents to demand travelers — some of them legal residents — hand over access to their electronic devices and social media accounts to be searched, their lawyers say.
Since the order’s surprise signing on Friday, scores of refugees and legal U.S. residents have been detained at and deported from airports across the country, followed by multiple federal courts ruling against detaining those who were in transit to the U.S. when Trump signed the order. Unlike temporary visitors, who are granted visas, green card holders are permanent legal residents that have already been granted the right to enter and leave the country freely.
But even though some of the people detained have since been allowed entry, lawyers providing them legal assistance say many travelers are also being coerced by airport customs agent into letting government agents search their computers, phones, and social media accounts upon landing in the U.S.
Trump’s order, which has spurred massive protests across the country since going into effect on Friday, has emboldened a controversial form of interrogation that started in the final days of the Obama administration. Last December, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol began asking some visitors and legal residents to provide information about their social media accounts, using a new field added to forms normally filled out when entering the country. Civil rights organizations slammed the move as threatening to free expression and ripe for abuse, but officials at the time said that providing that information was optional.