The Trump Administration has changed a policy to allow immigration authorities to take DNA samples from immigrants detained in detention centers.
Starting in April, immigration authorities will be allowed to take cheek swabs from hundreds of thousands of immigrants detained in federal custody each year.
ICE has commented that the policy change will help federal and local law enforcement detain criminal suspects if the DNA found on crime scene is matched to the database of the DNA from the immigrant detainee population. The DNA collected with be given to an FBI database, which will then be checked if the samples matched DNA recovered from crime scenes.
Advocates for immigrants rights are describing the policy as dehumanizing and a breach of privacy against the vulnerable population. Naureen Shah, the senior advocacy and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union argues that it is a way for the Trump Administration to make immigrants seem like they pose a threat to the American population. She also argued that this miscasting of immigrants to be criminals would allow the Trump Administration to “somehow justify holding onto the most intimate information about them indefinitely”.
The DNA collection plan was first proposed in October, but the Justice Department said Friday that it is pushing forward with the plan and will be formally amending regulations to make the DNA collecting legal.
The policy that is being changed to allow this is the 2005 law called the DNA Fingerprint Act, which allowed authorities to collect DNA samples from people in federal custody.
Until now, the law allowed the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive the DNA collection from migrants “because of operational exigencies or resource limitations.”
During the Obama Administration, Homeland Security decided not to collect DNA from individuals in immigration detention centers. However, the Trump Administration has decided against this and is now requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to collect the DNA.
Shah says that the Trump Administration has tried to “downplay what they can do with this information”. She argues that, despite what the administration says, “this isnt DNA that is going to be looked at once and then disappear from a database. It’s going to stay in the governments hands.”
Shah is concerned about the way this DNA taken from immigrants is used and how it could change over time with advancements in technology.
The DNA information will be added to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, which authorities use to search for DNA that matches traces of biological material found at crime scenes. The data that will be gathered from immigration detainees per year is expected to be more than the entire database from almost any individual state.
The Trump administration has repeatedly suggested that immigrants, in general, pose a criminal threat to the U.S., even though studies have shown that they commit crimes at lower rates than people born in the U.S.