U.S. Collecting Immigrant DNA at the Border

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DNA Collection Swabs, Photo by Evoultion Labs via Flickr.

On Monday, the Trump administration began implementing its “limited” Migrant DNA Collection program. The 90-day program was announced last October and is only the beginning of the “sweeping plan” to collect DNA samples, using rapid DNA technology, from migrants and immigrants held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, according to CBS News.

Border Patrol officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel are being ordered to take cheek swabs from those illegally entering.

This includes obtaining “DNA information from migrants between the ages of 14 and 79, while officials at the Eagle Pass port of entry will do the same for adults younger than 79,” regardless if they’re a green card holder, CBS News reports.

This DNA biometric information will be used to “create profiles in a massive national criminal database run by the FBI,” and the information will be held “indefinitely,” according to FOX 17 News.

The first move is part of the Trump administration’s five-step plan initiated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “to consider most immigrants entering the U.S., even those who come to legal ports of entry, as criminals,” The Crime Report detailed in October of 2019.

CBS News reporters write how DHS officials, citing the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, said that “those who refuse to consent to the new DNA collection efforts could be referred for criminal prosecution.”

Advocates and immigration attorneys are sounding the alarm bells.

Stephen Kang, an immigration attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told CBS News, “This is going to be a massive intrusion into individual privacy and it seems to us like a way of just collecting a DNA databank of people who are in immigration custody — which we view as really problematic.”

According to FOX 17 News, DHS officials reported that DNA will not be collected from people who fall into the following categories:

  • Individuals lawfully in, or going through lawful processing into the United States.

  • Individuals held at a POE during consideration of admissibility but not subject to further detention or proceedings.

  • Individuals who withdraw their application for admission who are not subject to further enforcement action.

  • Individuals who have Visa Waiver Program refusals.

  • Individuals held in connection with maritime interdiction.

  • “Pursuant to memorandums of understanding,” any individual transferred from CBP custody to the custody of another federal agency (with the exception of ICE).

  • When CODIS already contains a DNA profile for the individual.

  • Individuals suffering from a severe physical or cognitive handicap including: mental impairment; subjects being immediately transported for medical treatment; “or subjects appearing to be under the influence of narcotics in a manner that poses a risk to officer safety.”

However, Kang of the ACLU, told CBS News that language barriers make the immigrants and migrants “more susceptible to government coercion.” Kang added that many migrants from indigenous communities in countries such as Guatemala don’t speak either English or Spanish.

ICE officers say they’ve heard these concerns and the program could be “ ‘partially’ mitigated by posting notices in ICE facilities and by CBP officers providing ‘verbal notice,’ ” CBS News reported.

It’s important to note that this is only the first stage of the five-part plan. Over the next four phases, there will be an expansion of the number of border officers and ports collecting DNA. The fifth stage includes “full implementation” of the program, FOX 17 News detailed.

Additional Reading: Is the Government Deleting Immigration Court Records?

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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