Forced DNA Testing Could Be Another Injustice That Migrants Have To Endure Under New Trump Rule
As the number of migrants at the southern border has surged in the past several months, the Trump administration has turned to increasingly draconian measures as a form of deterrence. While the separation of children from their parents and housing of migrants in overcrowded and ill-equipped holding facilities have rightfully made front-page headlines, the administration’s latest effort—to conduct Rapid DNA testing on migrant families at the border—has flown under the radar. However, this new tactic presents serious privacy concerns about the collection of biometric information on one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. today—and raises questions of where this practice could lead.
Trump wants to expand the current DNA testing program far behind what most people would say is ethical.
The Trump administration wants to enable Customs and Border Protection officials to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants in its custody.
The move will likely inspire the anger of civil liberties and immigrant advocates, who argue that the government should not draw sensitive personal information from people without being tied to a specific crime.
The official noted an ICE pilot program at the southwest border earlier this year, in which the agency took voluntary DNA tests of those they suspected of fraudulently claiming to be families. “ICE has identified dozens of cases in which children had no familial relation to the adults accompanying them. In the first operation — Operation Double Helix 1.0 — 16 out of 84 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results. And in the second — Operation Double Helix 2.0 — 79 of 522 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results, to date,” the official said.
With Trump, it seems the cruelty is the point so where is all of this coming from?
In May 2019, CNN reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was launching a pilot program to conduct Rapid DNA testing on families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The purpose of the pilot program was to identify and prosecute individuals who were not related through a biological parent-child relationship. The pilot program was confirmed as a joint operation between ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at two locations at the border. The government contracted with ANDE, a Massachusetts-based Rapid DNA testing company, to conduct the Rapid DNA testing for the pilot program.
Later that month, ICE released a Request for Proposal seeking a contractor to expand the Rapid DNA testing program for ten months at seven locations at the U.S.-Mexico border. In mid-June, Bode Cellmark Forensics, Inc. was awarded the Rapid DNA testing expansion contract for $5.2 million.
The government started with voluntary DNA testing over a year ago.
Federal officials at the border have been performing voluntary DNA tests on migrants for more than a year in an attempt to reunited separated children with their families. But a new draft policy reveals the Trump administration wants to “expand” DNA testing by letting CBP “extract genetic material from undocumented immigrants in its custody.”
Proposed regulations are not immediately enacted and require a 60-day comment period.
Administration officials cite a statute — the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 — that 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 Department of Homeland Security — including CBP and ICE — from conducting such collection 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 current draft proposal would cut the exception all together — opening it up to include people who are awaiting deportation and those who are not charged with a crime, such as undocumented immigrants, to the collection.
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,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a statement on federal DNA collection. Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI generally take DNA samples from arrestees.