The Trump administration is planning to begin collecting DNA samples from detained immigrants to be entered into a national criminal database.
Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that the Justice Department was readying a federal regulation that would grant immigration officers the power to collect DNA samples in federal detention facilities that are holding over 40,000 people, according to The New York Times.
The policy will mark a significant expansion of the use of an existing database maintained by the FBI which has mostly been limited to holding genetic data collected from people who have been arrested, charged or convicted in connection with serious crimes. Officials would be allowed to collect DNA from children as well as migrants at legal points of entry who are seeking asylum.
The change sparked concern among immigration and privacy advocates who say the policy could further endanger immigrants, many of whom already face profiling or discrimination.
“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 The Times.
Homeland Security officials defended the policy Wednesday, saying the initiative was legal under the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005. Detained immigrants have so far been exempted under an Obama administration policy. T
The rule was reportedly prompted in part by a pilot program conducted over the summer in which immigration officials used rapid DNA sampling technology to identify “fraudulent family units,” or adults suspected of falsely claiming children they were traveling with were their own so that they could be granted special protections designated to families.
The program would be more expansive than the pilot in that it will provide a comprehensive DNA makeup rather than simply determine lineage.
Officials did not lay out a timeline for the policy’s rollout but said that a working group was meeting weekly to plan its introduction.
The proposal is part of a series of hardline policies from the Trump administration meant to curtail asylum claims and curb both legal and illegal border crossings.