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Washington — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and two House colleagues are calling for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies to stop collecting DNA from detained immigrants. 

Tlaib, along with U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar, both Democrats from Texas, said in a letter to acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf that the agencies should abandon a pilot program that collects DNA at the Detroit Sector and Eagle Pass Port of Entry in southwestern Texas. 

“We believe that the forced collection of DNA samples from families and individuals detained at our borders is a serious human rights issue,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

“Unlike fingerprints, DNA reveals deeply personal information about individuals and their relatives," the letter continued. "This kind of mass DNA collection could be used to surveil and implicate American citizens as well as their family members in the US. and

abroad. The use of Rapid DNA technology by CBP and ICE to test whether children and their guardians are related also raises concerns about the continuation of family separation at our southern border." 

In a Jan. 6 press release, Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security  announced the launch of "a limited, small-scale pilot program" to figure out the impact of proposed rules changes from the U.S. Department of Justice "that would require the collection of DNA samples from certain individuals in CBP custody."

Under the pilot project, the DNA samples would be submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS.

"The regulations apply to any individuals who are arrested, face charges or are convicted (including U.S. citizens and lawfully permanent residents), as well as to non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States, including certain aliens in CBP custody," the agencies said. 

Tlaib and her colleagues said "the criminalization of immigrant communities is another consequence of this policy that must be addressed.

The pilot program indicates that "DNA samples are being used to investigate past and future crimes," the lawmakers wrote.

"DHS makes it clear that, at the end of the pilot, individuals could be subject to DNA testing solely because they have entered the U.S. without documentation," they continued. "This policy reinforces the xenophobic myth that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born individuals." 

klaing@detroitnews.com

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