Trump administration makes permanent sampling program for migrant DNA

Washington D.C.

Migrant advocates question why the rush to enforce new policy

FILE – In this Thursday, April 18, 2019, file photo, a sign for the Department of Justice hangs in the press briefing room at the Justice Department, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Just weeks before the Biden administration is set to take over, the Trump administration has announced that it is making a DNA collection program standard operation across the Southwest border for all migrants in custody.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had initiated a pilot program to collect DNA saliva swabs in January, and recently announced that the program will be standard course of action by Dec. 31.

The samples will be sent to the Combined DNA Index Systems (CODIS), according to a CBP news release.

But the collection of such intimate body matter is deemed by migrant advocates as a violation of civil rights. And some say it is unnecessary to launch such a program at the Department of Homeland Security right before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

“The current administration has been accelerating its programs and policies and implementing them as fast as possible before they leave office,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Council, which offers legal services for detained migrants nationwide.

“There has been no information given as to why the government must collect this mass data from tens of thousands per year,” he told Border Report on Tuesday.

He said he is especially concerned with the use of cheek swabs during this ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think the government should keep central data bases on people like this, especially because this rule applies not only to criminally arrested but civil arrests, as well,” he said via phone. “The blanket taking of DNA from hundreds of thousands of people per year raises concerns.”

DNA collection has been in existence since 2010 but DHS had been exempt due to “resource limitations,” CBP officials said. But last March, the Department of Justice published a rule that eliminated the DHS exemption and directed the agency to comply within a 3-year timeline.

Reichlin-Melnick questions why the timeline is so sped up, especially since it is likely that the incoming administration will reverse this rule altogether.

CBP officials said U.S. Border Patrol is collecting samples from non-U.S. citizens who are apprehended and from U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted permanent residents arrested and facing federal charges between the ages of 14-79. 

The agency said “CBP does not use the DNA samples collected for any purpose beyond submission to the FBI in accordance with” this rule.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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