The Trump administration issued a proposal Monday that would allow it to collect DNA from migrants detained by immigration authorities and keep that data in a massive FBI criminal justice database.
The Department of Justice released the draft of a proposed rule on Monday that allows the government to broadly expand DNA collection from asylum-seekers and other migrants in U.S. detention.
The administration wrote that the rule would allow the U.S. attorney general to “direct all relevant Federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to collect DNA samples from individuals who are arrested, facing charges, or convicted, and from non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States.”
The biometric data would then be transferred to the FBI’s criminal justice DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, according to the rule.
The Justice Department wrote there would be exceptions in the proposed rule for immigrants legally entering the U.S. or being processed for lawful admission into the U.S.
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Department of Homeland Security officials detailed the proposed plan earlier this month.
“The proposed rule change would help to save lives and bring criminals to justice by restoring the authority of the Attorney General to authorize and direct the collection of DNA from non-United States persons detained at the border and the interior by DHS, with the ultimate goal of reducing victimization of innocent citizens,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement Monday announcing the proposed rule.
“Today’s proposed rule change is a lawful exercise of the Attorney General’s authority, provided by Congress, to collect DNA samples from non-United States persons who are properly detained under the authority of the United States,” Rosen said.
The Justice Department said that in advance of the proposed rule change, it has been working with DHS to initiate a DNA collection pilot program.
The proposal has drawn criticism from civil rights groups who have raised concerns over privacy, surveillance and the storing of the information in a database used for serious criminal investigations.
“Forced DNA collection raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns and lacks justification, especially when DHS is already using less intrusive identification methods like fingerprinting,” Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's speech, privacy, and technology project, said in a statement earlier this month.
“This kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance, which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy,” Eidelman said.
The administration has said a statute known as the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 authorizes collection of DNA from people in custody. Thus far, the agency has been working under certain exemptions to that statute. In 2010, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano requested an exemption to that collection for migrants who were not facing criminal charges and others awaiting deportation proceedings.
The Trump administration’s proposed rule would strike a provision authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to exempt DNA collection for migrants “because of operational exigencies or resource limitations.”
The rule will officially publish on Tuesday and is open to public comment for 20 days after publication.