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Tourists, beware: Trump wants your social media handles before you travel

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Spring break. It’s a vacation I am getting used to now that I have school-age children. I figure I’ve got 10 good years before my older daughter will start college and spending spring break with me will be the last thing she’ll want to do. We visited Disneyland—along with what felt like a million other people—and I realized the place is really a series of terminally long lines. Standing in those lines gives you an opportunity to listen to languages and accents from all over the world.

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It made me appreciate just how tourist-dependent many entertainment attractions in this country are.

And if we believe that U.S. Department of Commerce figures for the first part of 2017 represent any kind of trend, then the crowds we’re seeing these days might well be on the decline. The Commerce Department report showed that international travel to the U.S. was down more than 3 percent during the first seven months of last year, causing the U.S. to cede its spot as the world’s second most popular destination for foreign travel.

And how does the Trump administration respond to this disturbing course as we approach the critical summer travel season? It takes steps that would make it even tougher for visitors to come.

In March, the administration proposed a new rule to collect social media handles, including user IDs, from everyone applying for a non-immigrant visa to come to the U.S., around 14.7 million people.

I believe tourism is down in part because of the current global perception of the U.S., which under the leadership of Donald Trump has not been a place to admire. On top of that, the administration last year began applying “extreme vetting” to certain groups of tourists, which also included collecting social media information. The Obama administration had started collecting such data toward the end of 2016; Trump kicked it up a few notches.

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Now, through this proposed rule, the U.S. State Department would ask non-immigrant visa applicants for identifiers they’ve used on social media platforms over the previous five years.

“The Department will collect this information from visa applicants for identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards …”

It applies to all non-immigrant visa applicants, which include those seeking work and student visas, as well as people visiting for humanitarian reasons.

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I believe this simple sentence is going to have some far-reaching ramifications. What standard will be used? Can posting a meme criticizing the president, for example, result in a visa denial? Will they make arbitrary assumptions about religious extremism if one posts something about, say, religious holidays?

We already have a Muslim ban, and as we’ve seen with this administration, arbitrary and capricious decisions are the norm—not the exception.

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Generally, when someone is denied a tourist visa, there is no appeal. There is no one to complain to or from whom to seek redress. Though you can apply multiple times, it will be hard to overcome those initial decisions.

Using social media information to determine the entirety of one’s eligibility and worthiness to visit the U.S. is misguided. Our presence on Instagram and Twitter is not the truest reflection of who we are. And, more importantly, those who actually have ill intent toward the U.S. are unlikely to state it publicly on their Facebook pages.

Yet, this is where we are. It is unreasonable and wrong to inquire into people’s personal lives by requiring them to provide their social media handles. Such scrutiny will affect people traveling to the U.S. for work, for business, for tourism, or simply to visit family, and ultimately will deter people from wanting to come here at all. And who would blame them?

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With so much uncertainty surrounding this administration when it comes to immigration, it is important that we remain engaged. The proposed rules were introduced to the Federal Register on March 30 and the public can submit comments until May 29.

I think we all should. If you are in the U.S., whether on a visa, green card, or are a citizen, please leave a comment. Same thing applies if you are not in the U.S. but have interests here. Anyone can submit comments. You will need to leave your full name, city, state, and country, but there are no restrictions. Here are some tips on how best to submit comments.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the administration will take comments into account when making its final decision. But a mountain of lawsuits since Trump took office has provided enough incentive for his administration to go through the motions—if only for appearance’s sake.

Today, the lines at Disneyland and other destinations are full of domestic and international tourists. But should these rules take effect, I’m convinced the number of international tourists will drop. And while the U.S Travel Association reports that last year’s decline in tourism resulted in a loss of $4.6 billion and 40,000 jobs, the future loss will be significantly higher and the ripple effect unquantifiable.

Tahmina Watson wrote this article for YES! MagazineTahmina is a Seattle-based immigration attorney and author of the book, “The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth & Economic Prosperity in America.” She is also host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. Follow her on Twitter @tahminawatson.

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Taxpayers spent $243,000 on disgraced ex-Navy Secretary’s trip where he insulted relieved captain: report

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On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that prior to resigning, disgraced Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's trip to Guam for the speech that upended his career cost the taxpayer $243,000.

"For taxpayers, the cost of the flight alone was at least $243,151.65, according to a Navy estimate," reported Dan Lamothe. "The figure was based on 35 hours of flight time to and from Guam, with refueling in Hawaii. Modly traveled on a C-37B at a cost of about $6,946.19 per hour, according to the estimate, which was obtained by The Washington Post. The jet is a military version of the Gulfstream G550."

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Andrew Cuomo threatens to bail on CNN interview when his brother shows vintage photo of governor in bellbottoms

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) appeared to feign anger during a CNN interview Wednesday in which his brother, Christopher Cuomo, showed a vintage photo of their family with the elder brother clad in bellbottoms, a rhinestone belt and an unfortunate attempt at an afro.

The younger Cuomo is still suffering from the effects of coronavirus, appearing redfaced and wiping his brow. However, his brother noted that he seemed more animated than he has in days.

"Now I've seen you referred to a little bit recently as the 'Love Gov' and I'm wondering if that's making you a little soft on the president, that you don't want to really criticize him, because you need him and now's not a time for fighting," said the younger Cuomo. "But don't you have to balance that with calling him out if he's doing things that you don't think are great for the people of your state to be hearing and experiencing? Love Gov?"

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Fox News hosts are going back to downplaying threat from coronavirus: report

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Major Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity spent weeks assuring viewers that the novel coronavirus wasn't a serious threat. In recent weeks, however, they have shifted to a different narrative, acknowledging that the virus is dangerous but giving President Donald Trump credit for taking action and criticizing Democrats' lack of action — even though many Democrats, in fact, warned the pubic first.

But according to The Daily Beast, even as there is no clear end to the crisis in sight, and even as the U.S. crosses 13,000 deaths, many Fox News hosts are going back to downplaying the virus, either telling viewers it wasn't as bad as advertised and urging the president to end public safety measures against it.

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