Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants

A trio of House Democrats on Tuesday called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cease collecting DNA from migrants in government custody.

In a letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Veronica Escobar (Texas) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (Texas) called the collection of DNA samples a “serious human rights issue.”

“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.

“DHS makes it clear that, at the end of the pilot, individuals could be subject to DNA testing solely because they have entered the U.S. without documentation. This policy reinforces the xenophobic myth that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born individuals,” they added.

The DNA collection is part of a pilot program — which officially began earlier this month — that the Trump administration has said is meant to help confirm family relationships and investigate crimes. The information collected from the DNA samples will be entered into a criminal database run by the FBI. 

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said last fall that the change would “help to save lives and bring criminals to justice by restoring the authority of the Attorney General to authorize and direct the collection of DNA from non-United States persons detained at the border and the interior by DHS, with the ultimate goal of reducing victimization of innocent citizens.”
A Jan. 6 announcement from Customs and Border Protection said that the 90-day pilot program will be limited to only two locations in Detroit and the Eagle Pass Port of Entry in southwestern Texas.

The DNA testing applies to people between the ages of 14 and 79 who are apprehended and processed within the Detroit sector, as well as individuals who are subject to further detention or proceedings at the Eagle Pass Port of Entry.

Tlaib, Escobar and Castro also argued that the DNA testing of undocumented migrants at points of entry could add to the backlog of samples awaiting processing in existing criminal investigations, such as sexual assault kits that have yet to be tested.

Trump signed legislation in December that authorizes funding to help states tackle the backlog of more than 100,000 rape kits that have yet to be tested.

“The fact that labs will need to spend additional time processing and inputting hundreds of thousands of DNA samples into [the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System] could potentially exacerbate a backlog of untested sexual assault kits,” Tlaib, Escobar and Castro wrote.

The three lawmakers asked DHS to provide by Feb. 3 a timeline for the pilot program, the number of individuals — including the number of minors — who have already been swabbed for DNA samples, the expected administrative impact on the existing DNA processing backlog and confirmation that the DNA samples won’t be used for surveillance.

Tags Chad Wolf Joaquin Castro Rashida Tlaib Veronica Escobar
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