The Trump administration plans to begin taking DNA samples from migrants crossing the border or held in detention for use in a federal criminal database. The Wall Street Journal calls it “a significant expansion of immigration laws that is certain to raise privacy concerns.” The new rule, posted by the Justice Department on Friday and set to take effect in April, will require immigration officers to collect cheek swabs from up to hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants taken into federal custody each year. The move, which is sure to be challenged in court, injects a new civil-rights issue into the debate over immigration policy. It will amount to a significant expansion of the government’s DNA database, operated by the FBI, that primarily contains samples from people accused of committing serious crimes.
Collecting DNA samples from immigrants has long been a method proposed to track criminals who had once been in federal immigration custody but might not otherwise be known to law enforcement. In 2005, Congress passed a law giving the government more authority to DNA-test and fingerprint criminals, an expansion of government power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The measure permitted the Department of Homeland Security not to take these measures with immigrants in custody. The Obama administration exercised that exemption, arguing such a collection effort would amount to an impossibly cumbersome task.