Trump Administration Moves to Collect DNA of Detained Migrants

The Trump administration has moved a step closer to requiring the collection of DNA samples from many of the undocumented immigrants held in U.S. detention facilities, a dramatic expansion of enforcement powers that civil rights groups say could be abused.

Under a new rule announced Friday, the Department of Homeland Security can collect DNA samples from non-U.S. citizens who are being detained for criminal offenses in federal facilities. The samples would be put into a massive database operated by the FBI that federal, state and local authorities use to identify and locate violent criminals who are in the country illegally.

“The failure to collect DNA has allowed subjects accused of violent crimes, including homicide and sexual assault, to avoid detection even when they have been detained multiple times,” according to a Justice Department statement.

But civil liberties groups have said that forced DNA collection could affect hundreds of thousands of people, including refugees, asylum seekers and children who are in administrative detention but haven’t committed any crimes.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said that the policy “would treat immigrants as threats to our security” and “set a dangerous precedent for the future, enabling mass government surveillance.”

The rule will be published officially on March 9. The Homeland Security Department has been operating a test program since January in anticipation of the rule.

A 2005 federal law required agencies to collect DNA samples from undocumented persons being detained in the U.S., but exemptions issued by Homeland Security have prevented the collection of certain categories of data. The new rule eliminates exemptions, giving the attorney general the authority to direct the collection.

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