Detained Migrants Must Now Submit To DNA Tests (Video)

Do you have an Ancestry.com or 23andMe account?

If so, you know it can evince a web of close and distant relatives you never knew you had.

Using DNA gleaned from saliva samples, test kits break down people’s nationalities by percentage, offering an interesting insight into their origins and backgrounds.

But as exciting and enlightening as that can be, everything holds the potential for abuse.

This week, the federal government “launched a pilot program to collect DNA from people in immigration custody and submit it to the FBI, with plans to expand nationwide.”

The nationwide expansion is intended to apply to individuals in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody whose DNA samples will be added to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database.

Earlier this year, ICE awarded a 10-month $5.2 million contract to Bode Cellmark Forensics Inc. for equipment and supplies.

ICE, Trump’s deportation force, conducted a three-day pilot program last May in which it tested 84 families.

Between mid-April and June 14, 2019, ICE identified approximately 275 families deemed fraudulent, uncovered 735 fraudulent documents or claims, and referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) 553 individuals for prosecution.

102 families were administered testing. Of those, 85 were found to have a familial connection, 17 showed up negative, and 16 were sent to be prosecuted.

When Attorney General William Barr first proposed the DNA collection program, he stated the expectation that “federal authorities will gather DNA information on about 748,000 immigrants annually, including asylum-seekers presenting themselves at legal ports of entries.”

This is an expansion of rapid DNA tests conducted on children and adults to determine if those adults are family members of the children with whom they are traveling.

But as the New York Times reported in October:

“The new program would…provide a comprehensive DNA profile of individuals who are tested, as opposed to the more narrow test that was used only to determine parentage. And unlike the testing under the pilot program, the results would be shared with other law enforcement agencies.”

ICE initially took advantage of DNA testing technology to identify migrants posing as families in order to gain entry to the United States at seven locations along the U.S./Mexico Southern border.

The first phase of this new program, however, broadens ICE’s reach to collecting DNA samples from travelers detained at the Canadian border in or near Detroit and “at the official port of entry at Eagle Pass, Texas, across from Piedras Negras, Mexico.”

The Associated Press (AP) reported that “In Detroit people as young as 14 will be subject to DNA collection.”

At first, testing was “voluntary” even though documents suggest families are more likely to be separated if they refuse.

Now it is reported those who refuse face federal misdemeanor charges.

City University of New York (CUNY) associate law professor and co-director of Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, Nermeen Arastu, along with Legal Services NYC immigration attorneys Cristina Velez and Razeen Zaman, wrote in the Daily News in October:

“This database, known as the Combined DNA Index System, was born to identify convicted sex offenders and serial violent crimes. The list has problematically been expanded to include those who have only been arrested and never convicted of any crime, a daily reality for many people of color subject to racial profiling and over-policing. Now, this policy goes even a step forward to include those discretionarily detained by the U.S. government, including those encountered at the U.S. border, who include many asylum seekers who have committed no crimes other than immigration violations.”

They add:

“Less than two weeks ago, DHS announced that it expects to have face, fingerprints and iris scans of at least 259 million people in its biometrics database by 2022. This would cover nearly 80% of the population of the United States. This expansion of biometrics in and of itself allows the government vast investigatory and identification resources over those crossing the U.S. border. Why then is DNA needed?”

DNA collection also helps facilitate the Trump administration’s desire to refuse deportation deferrals for those suffering from serious medical conditions.

Arastu, Velez, and Zaman explained:

“Given the Trump administration’s efforts to exclude intending immigrants deemed unhealthy and weak, it seems natural that the government could use this data to deny admission to an otherwise eligible individual who may have a genetic propensity towards certain illnesses. In practice, this may mean an aspiring American is one day denied permanent residence because of predisposition towards an illness revealed by a forcible DNA test, a predisposition of which they may themselves not be aware, even if they are in perfect health.”

A former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy general counsel told BuzzFeed:

This is not the first instance of ICE mining people’s private data.

According to Georgetown Law experts who obtained government files through records requests, ICE authorities have been mining without warrants or subpoenas millions of Utah, New York, Vermont, and Washington drivers’ license photos for possible facial recognition matches in an attempt to ensnare undocumented immigrants.

Law enforcement, ICE, and the FBI performed nearly 2,000 database facial-recognition searches of the more than five million DMV state ID photos in just Utah alone, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Since the earliest days of the Trump administration, ICE has rounded up immigrants for minor offenses.

This is just another example of government overreach ICE is guilty of committing.

It’s the same type of overreach that has traditionally outraged Republicans and Libertarians, who would likely be outraged if this were being conducted under a Democratic administration.

Image credit: netzpolitik.org

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.