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Biden Is Going To Scrap A Trump-Era Plan To Force Immigrants To Submit Eye Scans, Voice Prints, And DNA

Immigrants who have received some benefit, like a green card or work permit, would have had to submit their biometric data at any point up until becoming a US citizen.

Posted on May 7, 2021, at 7:46 a.m. ET

Gregory Bull / AP

Border Patrol agents detain three men in the desert near Sasabe, Arizona.

The Biden administration on Friday will scrap a Trump-era proposal that sought to dramatically expand the number of immigrants required to submit biometrics for their applications, while also increasing the personal information the government can demand, such as eye scans, voiceprints, DNA, and photographs for facial recognition.

The proposed rule, which was issued in September, would have made it so the government could request biometrics from immigrants who have received some benefit, like a green card or work permit, at any point up until they are a US citizen to ensure continuous “vetting.”

The proposed policy never took effect, but would have represented a massive shift in the Department of Homeland Security’s collection of personal information from immigrants and US citizens and caused concern among privacy and immigrant advocates.

President Joe Biden has moved to quickly dismantle the policies set in place by the previous administration, which sought to restrict access to asylum and immigration. As part of that effort, DHS officials will withdraw the biometrics rule on Friday.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services officers generally only require fingerprints, a signature, and a picture from foreign national adults and those over 14 hoping to obtain certain immigration benefits, like temporary visas, green cards, and citizenship. The regulation, however, was set to change the procedure to make it so everyone associated with an immigration benefit, from US citizen sponsors to applicants themselves, would be required to appear for biometrics collection unless told otherwise by USCIS.

There also would have been no age limit, allowing the government to obtain biometrics from those under 14.

What’s more, DHS planned to expand the types of biometrics that could be collected to include eye iris image scans, palm prints, voiceprints, and DNA in instances in which familial relationship is necessary to be verified. The expansion of biometrics that could be collected was explained as part of the agency’s efforts to keep up with “technological developments'' and allow agency officials to easily identify individuals on the phone or without physical contact.

In late 2017, Paul Hunter, former chief of biometrics strategy for USCIS, told a trade publication at a conference that the agency was looking to add iris scans, voiceprints, and DNA to their biometric footprint to help not only speed up their processing of certain applications but to increase the security of the immigration system, according to a report in FCW.

Trump administration officials said the policy set standards for how and why DHS would collect this type of information and would protect against identity theft and stop fraudsters.

Biden has already implemented several changes at USCIS, including making it so “alien” is no longer used in official statements, and scrapping a Trump administration version of the citizenship test.

Ur Jaddou, a former agency chief counsel who has been nominated by Biden to lead USCIS, told BuzzFeed News last year that the biometrics policy was misguided.

“It is stunning,” she said. “They’re using what is overly general language in the law to justify a massive, unprecedented expansion to collect really personal information that they appear to plan to keep and use in perpetuity. What is the reason for this? What is the problem they are trying to solve?”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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