Story at a glance

  • The rule will require immigration officers to collect DNA from detained immigrants.
  • Civil liberties groups warn the program will set a dangerous precedent, while Department of Justice officials say it will help enforce federal law.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports the rule will take effect in April.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is moving forward with a widespread program to collect DNA samples from detained immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The DOJ issued a final rule Friday authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect DNA samples from immigrants who entered the country illegally and are in federal custody. Officials said the collection effort will fully enforce the DNA Fingerprint Act, a law passed in 2005 that requires taking DNA samples from anyone arrested, facing charges or convicted, and from any non-U.S. citizens detained under the authority of the U.S.

The Justice Department said the rule will facilitate federal, state and local investigative and crime reduction efforts. 

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The Wall Street Journal reports the new rule is set to take effect in April. 

“Today’s rule assists federal agencies in implementing long standing aspects of our immigration laws as passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement. “Its implementation will help to enforce federal law with the use of science.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have carried out a pilot program to collect DNA samples from some migrants apprehended in Detroit and at the Eagle Pass port of entry in southwest Texas since January.

The program has received criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups since the plan was first announced in October. 

Just last month, Democratic Reps. Rashia Tlaib (Mich.) and Veronica Escobar (Texas) and Congressional Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called the collection of DNA samples a “serious human rights issue,” in a letter calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop the pilot program. 

“Unlike fingerprints, DNA reveals deeply personal information about individuals and their relatives. This kind of mass DNA collection could be used to surveil and implicate American citizens as well as their family members in the U.S. and abroad,” the lawmakers wrote

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also criticized the DNA collection program, saying if implemented, “would threaten the privacy rights and civil liberties of immigrants.”

"Collecting the genetic blueprints of people in immigration detention doesn't make us safer — it makes it easier for the government to attack immigrant communities, and brings us one step closer to the government knocking on all of our doors demanding our DNA under the same flawed justification that we may one day commit a crime," Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel with the ACLU said in a statement.

The DNA material would be sent directly to the FBI to store in its Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS. The system works similarly to the FBI’s massive fingerprint database, as it’s used to identify suspects based on evidence recovered at crime scenes. 

Published on Mar 06, 2020