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Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

U.S. to Collect DNA of Detainees At Detroit Border, Raising Privacy Concerns

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

The Department of Homeland Security is piloting a DNA gathering program that could be expanded nationally.

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People taken into custody at Detroit’s border crossings are now subject to DNA sampling. Border agents are conducting cheek swabs of non-convicts in federal custody, under a government pilot program launched this week.

The 90-day pilot is being implemented in Detroit and at the Eagle Pass Port of Entry in southwestern Texas.

The measure applies to both non-citizens and U.S. citizens, in addition to Lawful Permanent Residents. According to a press release from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the samples will be submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The memo states detainees as young as 14-years-old could be subject to the policy. 

The pilot will assess the operational impact of a Department of Justice proposed amendment to the regulation that requires the collection of DNA samples from certain individuals and the submission of those samples to CODIS,” the release reads. ”The regulations apply to individuals who are arrested, face charges or are convicted, as well as to non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States, including certain aliens in CBP custody.”

This alarming effort to collect DNA from immigrants and migrants, including children, flies in the face of the values we strive to uphold in this country.” - Rep. Rashida Tlaib

Privacy concerns

The measure is being criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the policy is a major step forward in mass population surveillance.

It actually reveals information about our family relationships, about our ancestry, about our propensity for medical conditions,” Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, says. “The collections are implicating the privacy of their family members, which might include U.S. citizens. It might include people who have never stepped foot in the United States simply by nature of their genetic information and connection to other people.”

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says the policy is an effort by the Trump administration to dehumanize people seeking refuge in America.

This alarming effort to collect DNA from immigrants and migrants, including children, flies in the face of the values we strive to uphold in this country,” Tlaib wrote in a press release.  “Those coming to this country should be met with compassion and a just immigration system. Instead, they are met with policies that separate children from their parents and criminalize people for seeking a better, safer future. This policy should be halted immediately and prohibited permanently.”


Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

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