Advocacy update

Open Society Justice Initiative Comments on Expansion of Immigrant DNA Collection in U.S.

Public Comment: Proposed Rule for DNA-Sample Collection in United States Download the 10-page document. 10 Pages, 570.27 Kb, PDF Download
November 20, 2019
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Open Society Justice Initiative and Instituto para Mujeres en la Migración have expressed concern in a public comment over the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the forcible collection of DNA samples from non-citizens detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

The administration’s proposed rule would allow authorities to collect and retain sensitive biometric data from nearly 750,000 individuals in immigration detention annually, which raises numerous privacy and security concerns for already vulnerable communities. 

The organizations’ joint comment draws extensively on comparative insights from other countries’ mistakes and abuses collecting DNA for government purposes. The organizations warn that these cautionary tales are liable to become reality in the US if the administration does not alter its proposed course

This October, the Department of Justice announced the new rule, which would allow the Attorney General to require the Department of Homeland Security to collect DNA samples from non-citizens who are held in immigration detention, an extremely broad category that the proposed rule fails to further define. Immigrants’ DNA profiles would be recorded and retained in the Combined DNA Index System, the same Federal Bureau of Investigation database that holds DNA data and forensic profiles of nearly 20 million people who have been arrested, accused, or convicted of a crime in the U.S. 

Laura Bingham, Senior Managing Legal Director with Open Society Justice Initiative said, “The Department of Justice has failed to adhere to the required procedural safeguards for the introduction of any administrative rule, let alone the collection of sensitive DNA, which could have potentially harmful consequences. The administration’s proposal is rushed, reckless, and ill-founded. Considered with the Trump administration’s assault on immigrant communities, the intended purpose is clear. Fortunately, the procedural missteps highlighted in our comment provide an objective reason to withdraw the proposal, conduct the necessary assessments, and rethink this misguided path.”

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