More immigration detainees – including those as young as 14 – are now subject to DNA collection in Detroit. Meanwhile, a nationwide expansion of immigrant DNA testing was slated to take three years but now is expected to be fully in place by December.
A federal effort to increase swabbing by both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) progressed in Detroit last month. ICE public affairs officer Rachael Yong Yow said the agency’s Detroit office had fully expanded its DNA collection as of Sept. 29.
For its part, CBP also has expansion efforts underway.
The agency started a pilot program in January out of Detroit to collect DNA from immigrants detained while illegally crossing the border with Canada. By year-end, the department will take DNA from all “non-U.S. persons” detained in Detroit and across the U.S., Matthew Dyman, a CBP public affairs specialist, said in an email.
The changes mean non-permanent residents, 14 or older for ICE and 14 to 79 for CBP field operations, who are detained for civil immigration violations like overstaying a visa can be swabbed for DNA, which the FBI will maintain indefinitely.
Civil immigration violations are misdemeanors under federal law. Refusing the swab is also a misdemeanor.
Previously, only detainees facing criminal cases were swabbed.
Federal law has permitted immigrant DNA collection since 2009, but during the Obama administration, the Department of Justice allowed the Department of Homeland Security to forgo collecting the civil violation samples. A whistleblower in the Trump administration called attention to the waiver and the administration moved quickly last year to develop and then roll out a program.
The 2020 change in sampling aligns with Trump’s aggressive approach to immigration policy.
The CBP rollout was expected to take three years, according to homeland security privacy assessments issued in both January and July.
Dyman could not immediately comment Monday on the difference in timeline.
Immigration rights advocates have raised alarm at the efforts, with Susan Reed, attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, saying DNA collection is a new attempt to cast immigrants as criminals.
“It’s part of a seemingly endless barrage of dehumanizing policies targeting immigrant communities, and it needs to change,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, also said she’ll continue her fight to end the collections.
In January, Tlaib called on acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to end the practice and has since worked to limit funding for the program.
“The practice is a blatant attempt to criminalize (immigrants), creating a permanent law enforcement record for those who have may never (sic) been accused or convicted of a crime,” she said. “I will continue to push until we win the fight to repeal this policy – and until we hold DHS accountable for every human rights abuse it has inflicted on our immigrant communities during the reign of this racist, xenophobic White House.”
In its October 2019 proposal to expand DNA collection, the U.S. Department of Justice cited the idea that DNA profiles could help identify suspects in past or future crimes before they are out of the U.S. grasp.
The January privacy assessment said it’s unlikely a DNA match would be useful for public safety, because the individual in question might be out of custody. Instead the efforts enable the involved departments to comply with the law, it said.
Under Michigan law, DNA is taken from citizens after a felony arrest, but sent for testing only after formal charges are issued.
Currently, the FBI allows for DNA profiles to be removed from its database if cases are overturned, or if charges are dismissed, acquitted or not brought in a timely manner, according to the FBI website. No process is laid out for when or if these new DNA samples collected by ICE or CPB would be removed after a person is released from immigration detention.
In response to criticism, DHS has said they see a benefit to “creating a permanent DNA record for the individual.”
The privacy assessment referred to the profiles being kept in perpetuity.
The news comes as DHS last month proposed rules to collect DNA, iris scans, voice prints and photos for facial recognition “upon arrest of an alien for purposes of processing, care, custody, and initiation of removal proceedings,” regardless of age.
The rules also call for such biometrics from those seeking, holding or sponsoring a green card.
DHS last year started using DNA testing at the southern border to determine if families crossing into the U.S. were biologically related, CNN reports.
This story is a collaboration between the Detroit Free Press and Outlier Media, a non-profit journalism organization based in Detroit.
Darcie Moran is a breaking news reporter and podcaster for the Detroit Free Press. She’s served as an investigative reporter and covered justice issues, crime, protests, wildfires and government affairs.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: More immigration detainees face DNA collection before end of the year
(c)2020 the Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.