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The Trump Administration Plans To Collect DNA Samples From Some Undocumented Immigrants Who Are Being Detained

The DNA results could then be placed into a nationwide database that contains millions of other profiles for hits on potential previous criminal activity, officials say.

Posted on October 2, 2019, at 2:15 p.m. ET

Lm Otero / Associated Press

Border Patrol agents walk with a group of undocumented immigrants taken into custody in South Texas.

The Trump administration is planning to enable immigration officers to begin collecting DNA samples from undocumented immigrants who are being detained, officials said Wednesday.

The move will likely anger civil liberties and immigrant advocates who argue the government should not draw sensitive personal information from people without being tied to a specific crime.

Department of Homeland Security operators are currently discussing how to phase in DNA collection of people who are being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Customs and Border Protection, according to senior DHS officials speaking with reporters on Wednesday. The planning will examine which populations will have their DNA collected, privacy concerns, and the rollout.

BuzzFeed News first reported in August that the Department of Justice was planning to issue a regulation to expand DNA collection of detained immigrants. DHS officials did not specify what the regulation would say or when it would come, but did say that it was forthcoming. Proposed regulations are not immediately enacted and require a 60-day public comment period.

In the draft regulation obtained by BuzzFeed News, administration officials cite the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, which allows federal agencies to collect DNA from individuals in their custody, including those who are not American. But previous DOJ regulations exempted agencies under the DHS — including CBP and ICE — in certain circumstances.

In 2010, then–DHS secretary Janet Napolitano narrowed the exemption, saying people who were not detained on criminal charges and those who were awaiting deportation proceedings would not have their DNA collected. The draft proposal obtained by BuzzFeed News would cut that exception all together, opening DNA collection up to include people who are awaiting deportation and those who are not charged with a crime, such as undocumented immigrants.

Trump administration officials argue that the exemption is no longer necessary and that DNA collection would aid border officials in better assessing the individuals who cross into the US without authorization.

The DNA results could then be placed into a nationwide database that contains millions of other profiles for hits on potential previous criminal activity, officials explained in the proposal. A senior DHS official told reporters Wednesday that the collection would help better identify immigrants in custody and help assist other agencies who come in contact with the individual.

Civil liberties groups have long challenged the expansion of DNA collection from citizens and noncitizens alike. “DNA collection programs allow the government to obtain sensitive and private information on a person without any precursor level of suspicion and without showing that the data collected is tied to a specific crime,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement on federal DNA collection.

Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI generally take DNA samples from arrestees. In recent weeks, Fox News has interviewed some CBP officials who have called for DNA collection from detainees.

The US Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative body, told the administration to comply with the 2005 law. In response, CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez cited the exception written by the Obama administration.

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.