The Trump administration is moving to begin collecting DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of people booked into federal immigration custody each year for entry into a national criminal database, an immense expansion of the use of technology to enforce the nation's immigration laws.
Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security said today that the Justice Department was developing a federal regulation that would give immigration officers the authority to collect DNA in detention facilities that are holding more than 40,000 people.
The move would constitute a major expansion of the use of a database maintained by the FBI, which has been limited mainly to genetic data collected from people who have been arrested, charged or convicted in connection with serious crimes.
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Immigrant and privacy advocates said the move raised privacy concerns for an already vulnerable population that could face profiling or discrimination. The new rules would allow the government to collect DNA from children, as well as those who seek asylum at legal ports of entry and have not broken the law.
They warned that US citizens, who are sometimes accidentally booked into immigration custody, could also be forced to hand over their private genetic information.
"That kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance," said Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. She said that because genetic material carries strong family connections, the data collection would have implications for family members.
Homeland Security officials, in a call with reporters, said the new initiative was permitted under the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005.
The officials said the proposed rule was inspired partly by a pilot program conducted this summer along the southwestern border, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used rapid DNA sampling technology to identify "fraudulent family units" — adults who were using children disguised as their own to exploit special protections for families with immigrant children.
The new programme would differ from the pilot in that it would provide a comprehensive DNA profile of individuals who are tested, as opposed to the more narrow test that was used only to determine parentage. And unlike the pilot programme, the results would be shared with other law enforcement agencies.
Written by: Caitlin Dickerson
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