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.
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.
President Donald Trump’s administration announced last year it would seek to expand its use of biometrics to stop migrant adults from bringing children and falsely posing as parents. Whistleblowers had also complained U.S. Customs and Border Protection was violating federal law that requires agencies to collect DNA from people they arrest or detain.
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.”
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