The Department of Homeland Security announced on October 2 that the Justice Department will give immigration officers the authority to collect DNA from detained immigrants in detention facilities across the country and enter their results into a national criminal database. DHS is currently holding over 40,000 people in detention facilities across the country. Hundred of thousands annual DNA collection by cheek swabs will include children and asylum-seekers at legal ports of entry and a rollout could begin in days.
In 2005 Congress passed a law authorizing a broad collection of DNA data but at the time an exemption was put in place to protect immigrants, reports The New York Times:
“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,” said Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
The Department of Homeland Security told The New York Times that the new regulations are authorized under the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005. Immigrant detainees have been exempt from this law until now under a 2010 agreement between two Obama administration officials, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.
The Trump administration is moving to criminalize unauthorized border crossings, including asylum seekers who present themselves at legal ports of entry. Crossing the border into the United States without documents and attempting to elude border authorities is a misdemeanor for 1st offenders.
Chicago immigration attorney Mario Godoy says DHS’ decision to collect DNA from detained immigrants is a serious civil rights and privacy violation:
“The government is moving to take private, sensitive information from people who have not committed a crime. This information can be misused by the government and is counter to our American values of privacy and freedom.”
ICE started a pilot program this summer to collect and test DNA on immigrant families to identify “fraudulent family units” and ensure the adults were related to the children traveling with them.
The immigration attorneys at Godoy Law Office fight for the rights of immigrants in Illinois and help immigrants navigate the complex and numerous immigration policies, procedures, and regulations. If you need help with an immigration issue, please contact our office at 855.554.6369. Godoy Law Office serves the Chicago, Illinois area including DuPage, Cook, Kane, Will, and Lake Counties.