August 13, 2020

DHS Move Ahead With Plan To Harvest DNA Samples From Nearly Everyone Detained By ICE And CBP

Looks like everyone roaming across the board is going to become a source of info for the US government. The DHS has already rolled out facial recognition at international airports and additional biometric collections elsewhere. The Fourth Amendment’s near-nonexistence at the border has led to a steadily-increasing number of invasive device searches. Visa applicants and other long-term visitors are being forced to turn over social media information (including passwords) during the application process.

Now, the DHS is hoping to collect DNA from nearly every immigrant it has in custody. The DHS first pitched this idea back in October, hoping to strike the lone exemption keeping it from collecting samples from the hundreds of thousands of people crossing southern borders every year.

The previous administration said it simply wasn’t feasible to collect DNA from every detainee, especially those rounded up near southern borders. This administration says it’s no longer a logistical problem, so it should be allowed to collect it from everyone detained by ICE or the CBP.

[S]ubsequent developments have resulted in fundamental changes in the cost and ease of DNA-sample collection. DNA-sample collection from persons taken into or held in custody is no longer a novelty. Rather, pursuant to the mandate of § 28.12(b), it is now carried out as a routine booking measure, parallel to fingerprinting, by Federal agencies on a government-wide basis.

The rule change removes the logistics exemption, effectively removing the power to make judgment calls on DNA collection from the DHS and placing it in the hands of the Attorney General. Presumably, Bill Barr will be far less likely to exempt any immigrants from this DNA collection, no matter how much of a burden it places on the agencies performing the collection.

The change is now in effect and the DHS is moving forward with its expanded DNA collection.

The U.S. government on Monday launched a pilot program to collect DNA from people in immigration custody and submit it to the FBI, with plans to expand nationwide.

In Detroit, people as young as 14 will be subject to DNA collection.

The information would go into a massive criminal database run by the FBI, where it would be held indefinitely. A memo outlining the program published Monday by the Department of Homeland Security said U.S. citizens and permanent residents holding a “green card” who are detained could be subject to DNA testing, as well as asylum seekers and people entering the country without authorization. Refusing to submit DNA could lead to a misdemeanor criminal charge, the document said.

It will take more than a detention to collect DNA from US persons and lawful permanent residents, so that’s not an entirely accurate synopsis of the DHS’s memo [PDF]. US persons and lawful residents will have to be under arrest or facing criminal charges to be subjected to the DNA collection.

But it does change the scope of the collection, which will now include as many immigrants as possible, even if they’re crossing at heavily-trafficked areas of the border. It also means the DHS is creating additional logistical challenges under the theory that filling an FBI database with non-criminals will make it easier to apprehend criminals.

The DHS expects this to cost an additional $3-5 million a year, including the $5.38 the FBI spends for each DNA kit. Processing is another matter — the DHS did not address this cost in its proposal other than saying the FBI “won’t charge” the DHS for processing. This is an especially meaningless assurance. Taxpayers will still be paying for the gratis processing the FBI will be performing. There will just be less paperwork involved.

Even if it’s cost-effective, it’s still mostly useless. Most of the DNA collected will be linked to people who did nothing more than attempt to cross a border. It puts more needles in the FBI’s haystack under the theory it might result in the occasional apprehension of a dangerous individual. Even the DHS believes the collection won’t do much to ensure the worst of the worst aren’t returned to general population.

The DHS memo acknowledged that the DNA its agents collect may not be immediately useful. Agents plan to take saliva swabs of detained people, then mail them to the FBI. By the time the results are processed, the memo said, the people in question may have already been released, deported or transferred to another federal agency.

Useful or not, the collected DNA belongs to the US government for life. The government has authorized DNA collection on detainees as young as 14 and can hold onto the info indefinitely. In practical terms, this means CBP and ICE will be taking DNA samples from children because agents generally decide how old immigrant minors are, rather than relying on produced documents or statements from detainees and family members. If they really want the sample, they’ll just declare someone to be 14 years old.

Maybe the ultimate goal is to make coming to America just not worth the hassle. The government’s thirst for data is never quenched. Every so often the public may make it take a step back from the fire hose, but it will always come back for more.
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