The administration has already started using DNA tests to determine whether immigrant families are, in fact, immigrant families.
The Trump administration is planning to collect DNA samples from individuals detained by federal immigration officials.
Tens of thousands of migrants are already booked into detention centers across the country, with more added and released every day. According to The New York Times, taking DNA samples from every immigration offender would constitute an immense expansion both in how the law is enforced and how DNA is used by the government.
Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security told the Times that other agencies are already working on a regulation that’d comply with court precedent and extant regulations. Revision, here, is the Justice Department’s purview. Its attorneys are planning to give immigration officers the authority to extract DNA samples from immigration detainees, then upload their profiles into long-term digital storage.
As the New York Times notes, DNA isn’t typically taken from persons suspected or adjudicated of civil offenses. Most of the DNA samples on file at the Federal Bureau of Investigation relate to individuals convicted of serious crimes.
However, the government’s plan doesn’t just break precedent by seeking DNA from immigration detainees. If the Trump administration gets its way, anyone applying for asylum at a legal port of entry would also have to hand over their genetic information. Children wouldn’t be excluded and would be expected to adhere to many of the same requirements as adults.
Civil rights advocates say there’s a chance that U.S. citizens accidentally booked by immigration officials could be forced to hand over their DNA, too.
“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 attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
It’s a problem not limited in scope. Under the Trump administration, immigration officials have already begun piloting programs which use DNA to determine whether migrant families are, in fact, blood-related.
“You’ve undoubtedly heard about the pilot programs with the Border Patrol where they’re doing DNA testing […] They’re identifying fake families,” said Acting U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services Director Ken Cuccinelli late last month. “In the areas where those are being implemented, it’s something like 30% are fake families.”
The Houston Chronicle notes that Cuccinelli’s statement is an exaggeration—federal statistics show “fake families” represent less than 19% of all claims along the border.
While USCIS and the Border Patrol have begun using DNA against asylum-seekers and migrant claims, the Justice Department has yet to give a timeline as to when it’ll begin taking immigrants’ genetic information on a larger scale.