Opinion: New DNA collection program at Detroit border should be terminated
The Trump administration recently launched a pilot program that will allow federal law enforcement the discretion to collect DNA of American citizens at or near the border. This should concern all Americans who are weary of our nation creeping into becoming a total police state.
The Department of Homeland Security launched an initiative on Jan. 6 that allows border officers to collect DNA of American citizens and legal permanent residents detained at the entry ports of Detroit and Eagle Pass, Texas.
Citizens who are as young as 14 years of age that are detained during reentry into their country at these two borders can be subjected to provide their DNA, which will then go into an FBI database. This pilot program, which has been rolled out in our area, has the potential to go nationwide. At all border crossings, citizens and legal permanent residents would have their DNA taken by the government. Our nation has ventured into territory foreign even to “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s famous book “1984.”
The Detroit border crossing has a particularly infamous record of federal agents holding American Muslims and asking them invasive religious questions. In 2011, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan chapter (CAIR-MI) asked the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of DHS to investigate border officers for asking unconstitutional questions to American citizens about their prayer habits and which mosques they attend.
Because of the continued abuses of agents and no relief rendered from the civil rights office under DHS, a federal lawsuit as recently as 2016 was filed by CAIR, which is still in the courts.
Due to the recent holding and questioning of several Iranian Americans at a border crossing in the state of Washington just after the drone strike against Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as well as the complaints of harassment by federal officers in Metro Detroit of Iranian Americans or Americans that have traveled to Iran in the past year, there is a heightened concern that ethnic and religious profiles may become justification for detention and DNA collection at border crossings.
In other words, this program could open the door to unwarranted arrests and invasion of privacy.
This is a specific concern for American Muslims given the increased profiling to which we have been subjected. But irrespective of ethnicity or creed, no citizen should be forced to give a DNA sample to be stored in a database without being charged with a crime.
Privacy rights distinguish democracies from authoritative regimes. The new DHS pilot program opens the door for a DNA database to monitor the activities of American citizens. To protect our rights and to ensure that the government does not delve deeper into monitoring all aspects of our lives, we should all be concerned about this new program and call on our members of Congress to push to have this DNA pilot program terminated.
Dawud Walid is the executive director of CAIR-MI.