Immigration officials are using Google Translate to vet refugees

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Google Translate. Photo credit: Google.com.

An investigation by ProPublica found that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are relying on translation services like Google Translate to determine if people should be allowed into the country. 

The Trump administration now only accepts 18,000 refugees into the country per year, which is the lowest number in history. Just two years ago, it was 110,000. 

An internal manual instructs immigration officers to use online translation services when they encounter social media posts that are not in English. The manual describes Google Translate as one of the most efficient ways to review posts. 

“Social media has been used as a tool to vet applicants to the United States since the Obama era,” says Yeganeh Torbati, a reporter at ProPublica. “But the Trump administration has really ramped up that use of social media in vetting to a whole new level. The State Department now requires almost all visa applicants worldwide to submit their social media handles.”

Google says that its machine translation service is not “intended to replace human translators.” Torbati agrees, and says that there could be dangerous implications for widespread use of the product by USCIS. 

 “These tools are not designed to be able to translate casual language, colloquial language, idioms, things that just don't translate one to-one- between languages,” she tells KCRW. “Innocent comments that use some sort of slang that then comes across as dangerous; or even on the flipside, you could imagine a situation in which actually threatening comments by an applicant is missed because it's sort of shrouded in a lot of nuance and local context.”

 It isn’t clear how widely USCIS uses internet translators.. The department said in a statement that “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services understands the limitations of online translation tools. USCIS follows up with human translators as needed.”

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Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle