The Trump administration is planning to expand DNA collection practices for immigrants caught illegally entering the United States, in an effort to create a database for the FBI.
The effort is part of a plan to help determine the legitimacy of parental claims from adults entering the country with children, an unnamed senior Homeland Security (DHS) official told Fox News Wednesday. The Trump administration has raised concerns that adults entering the U.S. with children are given more legal protection than adults who come alone.
The official did not claim a proposed timeline for when the new policy will be rolled out, but said the Justice Department will issue the regulation and will provide a framework and phase in implementation for the DNA testing.
The DNA testing will reportedly feature collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The DHS has established working groups to address privacy concerns, operational impact, costs, exactly how the testing will be done and the timeliness of its implementation, the official explained.
In a Fox News report from July, a whistleblower alleged the CBP had failed to perform an existing DNA collection pilot program, meant to take samples from illegal immigrants who were detained at the border and provide them for cross-reference with the FBI’s database.
The whistleblower alleged the Obama administration to have put the pilot program on hold, and further accused other officials of admitting in 2018 to purposefully designing the program to be unsuccessful.
“U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and illegal aliens in this country are and have been harmed due to our agency not collecting DNA,” Mike Taylor, one of the government whistleblowers, told Fox News at the time.
Current policy is to fingerprint illegal immigrants who cross the border. Those fingerprints are then sent to federal databases accessible by state and local law enforcement agencies.
Under the DNA fingerprint act of 2005, federal agencies are allowed to collect DNA from individuals in their custody, including non-Americans, but it is not a requirement. Homeland Security has not vastly collected DNA samples.
Brian Hastings, chief of the Border Patrol’s law enforcement directorate, cast doubt on DNA testing during a deposition to address whether it would be a good method to identify families.
“Even once such policies and procedures were put in place, Border Patrol Agents are not currently trained on DNA collection measures, health and safety precautions, or the appropriate handling of DNA samples for processing,” Hastings told the judge in the deposition.
There could be an issue with the Border Patrol’s current personnel’s ability to conduct DNA tests though collection is mostly non-invasive and typically done with a cheek swab or by collecting saliva.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also cited privacy concerns as a challenge to DNA collection.
“It’s not surprising, given this administration’s fixation on villainizing folks at the border, but it reaches beyond them,” the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman told The Associated Press.