The Trump administration is pushing ahead with a project that could lead to the government collecting DNA from hundreds of thousands of detained immigrants, some as young as 14 years old, alarming civil rights advocates. Once fully underway, the DNA program could become the largest U.S. law enforcement effort to systemically collect genetic material from people not accused of a crime, reports the Center for Public Integrity. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will begin a pilot project to take genetic samples from detained migrants held in Detroit, on the northern border, and Eagle Pass, Tx., on the southern. Using cheek swab kits, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also intends to collect DNA from those in its custody through a separate pilot project. Detainees who refuse to cooperate can be charged with a federal misdemeanor.
The CBP pilot program is the beginning of a Justice Department plan to roll out mass DNA collection from most immigrant detainees. If adopted, the plan would allow collection of DNA from an estimated 743,000 detained immigrants annually. Civil libertarians consider the plan a violation of privacy because detained immigrants, including those asking to enter the U.S., are in civil rather than criminal custody. The plan “lacks justification and seeks to miscast the children and adults in immigration detention as violent criminals who pose a danger to our society,” said Vera Eidelman of the American Civil Liberties Union. Reps. Veronica Escobar and Joaquin Castro (both D-TX) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), have demanded the end of the pilot program, which they argue reinforces “xenophobic” ideas about immigration.