The Department of Homeland Security plans to collect DNA from migrants held in Federal custody next month. The Obama administration made collecting these samples optional because it was expensive and produced bad results. Nevertheless, the Trump administration now deems them required.
Many critics, like the ACLU, believe that collecting DNA from detainees without criminal records sets a troubling standard. Those with family in federal detention should be aware of the details of these new rules.
Families of migrants beware
There are a few details concerned parties should keep in mind regarding DNA collection:
- Pay attention to details: Federal detention centers can be chaotic and crowded. Officials may use this inherent confusion to collect your DNA under questionable circumstances. Note how they collect it, what happens immediately after, and the number of people collected from.
- Stored in a Federal database: This data lives in an FBI database so law enforcement officials can potentially check it against DNA found at a crime scene. The current administration claims this is to fight crime committed by immigrants, even though studies suggest undocumented migrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens.
- A “sanitized” genetic fingerprint: The Trump administration claims the DNA collected from centers will not disclose specifics about one’s health or biology and will only identify the person. Take note that this is only a current policy decision — the government may change the policy concerning DNA records at some point in the future.
The difficult field of DNA evidence
DNA collection is a contested legal field, with many lawyers concerned about how and why the government collects DNA. When properly done, DNA testing is about 95% accurate — a valuable tool in criminal cases. With alternative testing, like with Rapid DNA testing machines, the margin for error is wider so most results are not admissible in court. Concerned migrants who believe the government may have a sample of their family’s DNA should contact a local immigration lawyer to discuss next steps.