Trump Administration to Obtain Detained Migrants’ DNA for Use in Criminal Database

A U.S. Border Patrol agent loads detained migrants into a van at the border of the United States and Mexico on March 31, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Over four years after Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants criminals, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that the Department of Justice is currently working on a federal regulation requiring immigration officers to collect DNA from migrants detained in facilities with a capacity of over 40,000 people. The DNA samples would be placed in the FBI’s national database, known as CODIS, which is used by law-enforcement agencies to identify suspects of serious criminal offenses. According to the bureau, it is a key “tool for linking violent crimes.”

DHS officials told reporters Wednesday that the plan is allowed under the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, and that they were ending immigrants’ 2010 exemption from the law created by Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Since 2010, immigrants who were not detained on criminal charges and people awaiting deportation have not been required to consent to DNA swabs.

The rule change — initially reported as a possibility by BuzzFeed News in August — emerged from a pilot Immigration and Customs Enforcement program from earlier this year in which ICE took voluntary DNA tests of migrants they believed to be faking familial claims. In the two operations, the fraudulent rate was 19 percent and 15 percent. These low success rates for the program show the massive privacy violation inherent in the plan. As the New York Times notes: “Immigrant and privacy advocates said the move raised privacy concerns for an already vulnerable population that could face profiling or discrimination as a result of their personal data being shared among law enforcement authorities. The new rules would allow the government to collect DNA from children, as well as those who seek asylum at legal ports of entry and have not broken the law.” Another population whose rights could potentially be abused: U.S. citizens detained by ICE or Border Patrol, like Dallas-born 18-year-old Francisco Erwin Galicia, who was detained for nearly a month in June, despite showing officials his Social Security card and birth certificate.

This year, as the president’s border wall seems to be beyond the reality of his first term, the Trump administration has pursued a number of alternative methods to cut immigration, ranging from low-tech, unlikely, and cruel (building a snake moat and shooting migrants’ legs) to high-tech, ethically terrifying, and cruel (obtaining migrant DNA) and from cutting the refugee cap to its lowest-ever number to firing DHS officials who won’t do his bidding. But taking the DNA of migrants to use in an FBI database is one of the administration’s more blatant signs that it views all undocumented migrants as criminals — despite there being no causal connection between crime and immigration in the U.S., and that an unauthorized border crossing is only a misdemeanor. Another obvious sign of the stigma the administration is attaching to migrants legally applying for asylum law came from a senior DHS official who told reporters Wednesday that they believed that “there is a criminal aspect to that population” of above-board asylum applicants.

Trump Administration to Begin DNA Testing Detained Migrants