U.S. Department Of Justice Rule Gives Green Light To Collect DNA From Asylum-Seekers And Detained Migrants

U.S. Border Patrol agents detain immigrants in Mission, Texas (Photo: Getty)

The U.S. Department of Justice released an amended regulation on Monday that allows the Trump administration to lay the groundwork for a sweeping new policy requiring DNA collection for nearly all migrants who are held temporarily or for an extended period of time in federal immigration custody, so that information can be loaded into an FBI database.

Back in May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began using cheek-swab Rapid DNA tests on some asylum seekers entering through the U.S.-Mexico border that are reportedly used for the purpose of determining if children and adults travelling together are family members.

Soon the U.S Customs and Border Protections are likely to expand their DNA collection efforts, thanks to a new regulation change proposed by The Department of Justice on Monday.

Under the new proposed rule, the Attorney General would be empowered to direct the Department of Homeland Security to take DNA samples from detained immigrants. The rule change would remove an exemption in the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 that blocks the Department of Homeland Security from collecting DNA samples from detainees who are not U.S. citizens.

According to the AP, after a 20-day period for the public to provide comments, a pilot program for the new policy will be implemented with an expanded roll-out following shortly thereafter.

“Today’s proposed rule change is a lawful exercise of the Attorney General’s authority, provided by Congress, to collect DNA samples from non-United States persons who are properly detained under the authority of the United States,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a public statement. You know you’re off to a great start defending your decision when you have to reassure the world that it’s perfectly legal.

The U.S. Office of Public Affairs press release acknowledges that since the DNA Fingerprint Act was passed into law, the FBI has created the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which processes and indexes DNA samples so the data can be used in law enforcement investigations across the country. The announcement says that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have been collaborating to create a program that would allow DNA collection for all detained immigrants to be entered into CODIS.

The announcement confirmed an Associated Press report from Monday that stated the Department of Justice’s amended regulation would impact immigrants who are detained as well as immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. News outlets reported two weeks ago that new regulation regarding migrant DNA collection was in the works, but the report did not reveal a timeline or if the policy would also apply to asylum-seekers.

Exemptions from the DNA mandate include children age 13 and younger, legal permanent residents, and people entering the country legally, according to AP.

“That kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance, which is basically contrary to our basic notions of a free, trusting, autonomous society,” Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told New York Times when news of the mandate first came out.

According to the AP. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently has more than 51,000 detained immigrants in custody.

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