U.S. to Forcibly Collect DNA From Detained Immigrants for FBI Database

By Shani Saxon Oct 04, 2019

Immigration and privacy advocates are ringing alarm bells over the U.S. government’s plan to forcibly collect DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of detained immigrants for entry into a national criminal database, The New York Times reports. Critics say this latest move from the Trump administration targets a population that is already criminalized by immigration detention, raids, stops and deportations. 

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) representative spoke to reporters about the new rule on a call that was joined by The Times. The rep insisted that a 2005 rule that exempted immigrants from DNA collection is outdated and has to be removed. The new Trump administration rule would also allow immigration agents to collect DNA “from children as well as those who seek asylum at legal ports of entry.” Immigration detention facilities across the country are currently holding more than 40,000 people. 

After agents collect the DNA, the samples will be entered the F.B.I.’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). According to its website, CODIS “blends forensic science and computer technology into a tool for linking violent crimes. It enables federal, state, and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically.” 

Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told The Times this shift has to be taken seriously. “That kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance,” she said. “[That] is basically contrary to our basic notions of a free, trusting, autonomous society.” Eidelman added that because genetic material also carries family connections, the collected DNA data could also impact family members who may or may not be legal residents of the U.S.

Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law says this new rule could go a long way reinforcing the Trump administration’s running narrative that immigrants are directly linked to crimes. “We don’t have a statistical database of how many businesses immigrants create, or the ways they enrich our communities,” she said. “But if the government has a way to say, ‘This is the number of immigrants we’ve linked to crimes,’ and this is something we already see anecdotally, we might lose sight of all the positive benefits.”