U.S. to start collecting DNA from people detained at border
Houston – The U.S. government on Monday launched a pilot program to collect DNA from people in immigration custody and submit it to the FBI, with plans to expand nationwide.
In Detroit, people as young as 14 will be subject to DNA collection.
The information would go into a massive criminal database run by the FBI, where it would be held indefinitely. A memo outlining the program published Monday by the Department of Homeland Security said U.S. citizens and permanent residents holding a “green card” who are detained could be subject to DNA testing, as well as asylum seekers and people entering the country without authorization. Refusing to submit DNA could lead to a misdemeanor criminal charge, the document said.
Immigrant advocates and privacy experts have raised alarms and questioned whether data collected to stop criminal activity could instead be used for surveillance.
The DHS memo acknowledged that the DNA its agents collect may not be immediately useful. Agents plan to take saliva swabs of detained people, then mail them to the FBI. By the time the results are processed, the memo said, the people in question may have already been released, deported or transferred to another federal agency.
Stephen Kang, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether the U.S. was creating “a DNA bank of immigrants that have come through custody for no clear reason.”
Starting Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will collect swabs from people apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol at the Canadian border in or near Detroit, as well as people detained at the official port of entry at Eagle Pass, Texas, across from Piedras Negras, Mexico. CBP said its pilot program will last 90 days.
The memo said agents will not take DNA from people entering the country legally or being held for further screening without being placed into detention.
CBP has wrongly accused American citizens in the past of entering the country illegally. An 18-year-old born in Texas was held for more than three weeks last year.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will designate one of its jails for pilot testing.