Collecting DNA Data from Detained Immigrants Is a Move Toward Racism and Potential Abuse

ICE DNA Immigration

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to begin collecting DNA samples from any person taken into custody by immigration authorities. The DNA data will be entered into a federal database where officials will have unprecedented access to sensitive information of a wide net of immigrants. The announcement is the Trump administration’s latest push in its anti-immigrant agenda.

According to officials, the new initiative is designed to ensure that law enforcement agencies have all the tools at their disposal in order to identify undocumented violent criminals within the detention system, citing a 2005 law that they insist permits the collection of DNA data of anyone in federal custody, including immigrants. “The agency’s noncompliance with the law has allowed subjects subsequently accused of violent crimes, including homicides and sexual assault, to elude detection even when detained multiple times by C.B.P. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” wrote Henry J. Kerner, special counsel to the DHS. 

DNA Testing BELatina

The department also claimed that comprehensive DNA testing is necessary to confirm that undocumented parents traveling with their children are not claiming a fraudulent biological connection with the child… though it’s hard to believe that the department responsible for a policy of family separation is actually trying to do everything it can to protect the wellbeing of minors. 

Critics of DNA collection have pointed out how if the federal government’s priority is truly national security, they ought to consider the fact that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than American citizens. An analysis by the Cato Institute cited figures suggesting that native-born Americans commit violent crimes at rates two to five times higher than immigrants. “It is easy to focus on the horrible tragedies when somebody is murdered by an immigrant but it’s very hard to imagine all of the people who weren’t murdered because of the lower crime rates created by increased immigration,” wrote the author of the report; the suggestion runs counter to the hysteria fomented by the Trump administration’s fear mongering. 

And as a side note, in terms of using DNA data to protect Americans, perhaps the current administration should tackle the country’s backlog of untested rape kits. A piece in The Atlantic from this summer estimated that there are upwards of 200,000 untested rape kits in the possession of law enforcement.

Furthermore, it’s no stretch to imagine that this DHS-led DNA collection effort would also ensnare US citizens who are taken in by immigration agents, most of whom would have been targeted because of their perceived country of origin or citizenship status. “That kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance, which is basically contrary to our basic notions of a free, trusting, autonomous society,” a spokesperson from the ACLU told the New York Times

The federal government should be doing everything within reason to protect Americans, but clearly, undocumented immigrants are being targeted because of a racist obsession with their immigration status, not because of a broader national security effort.