McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Thursday outlined the agency’s role in a nationwide DNA sampling program and explained how the agency will adhere to its requirement to collect DNA samples in compliance with a federal law.
CBP officials from the Washington, D.C., headquarters told Border Report that despite a 2005 federal law requiring all U.S. law enforcement agencies to take buccal swabs from those arrested for crimes or non-U.S. citizens in custody, the agency had been exempt because it did not have the resources to take the buccal swabs to collect DNA from the cells on the inside of a person’s cheek.
The DNA Sample Collection under the Fingerprint Act of 2005 “directs agencies that arrest or detain individuals, or that supervise individuals facing charges, 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 samples are only to be sent to the FBI.
The FBI stores the samples in the Combined DNA Index System, also called CODIS, and is used to match DNA with suspects with heinous crimes, like rapes and murders, that often have gone cold, an official said. The FBI can match the data from multiple jurisdictions and can coordinate their respective investigations, the FBI CODIS website says.
CBP officials said that the buccal swabs are not targeted to migrants, or those on the border, but is part of a national law that the agency has been ordered with which to comply.
In 2019, CBP was informed that it would be required to take samples of those in custody within three years. But after the agency rolled out a pilot program in early January in Eagle Pass, Texas, it realized its proficiency and ability to collect the swabs relatively easily and upped its timeline for implementation nationwide by Dec. 31, 2020.
“They gave us three years but we realized we could do it much faster. So why drag it out? These samples could be used by other law enforcement agencies so that’s one reason why it seems as though it was done very quickly but we were given an abundance of time to do it,” said Matthew Dyman, public affairs specialist with CBP.
The program will be “100% compliant nationwide” by the end of the year, a CBP official said.
The DNA sampling program has nothing to do with matching familial DNA, or determining whether migrants are related to one another or having to do with determining to whom separated migrant children are related. That type of matching is not possible through these buccal swabs.
They said the FBI database is the most cybersecure in the world. Only CBP agents are taking the swabs in the field and they are specially trained during this COVID-19 pandemic to safely take samples.
“We’ve been given the proper advice from CBP medical on how to process these samples given the COVID pandemic and there is nothing more paramount to us than the safety and security of the public …. and for ourselves,” a CBP official said.
Border Report earlier this week reported on CBP’s ability to expand the DNA sampling program nationwide by year’s end and quoted concerns by some migrant advocates that it is being quickly broadened before a new administration takes office next month. But CBP officials said it is the current law of the land and they are just complying with what Congress and the Justice Department has ordered.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.