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US authorities will collect DNA samples from migrants crossing the border

The US Department of Justice is proposing to start collecting DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of immigrants crossing the border, creating a huge database of asylum seekers. According to federal officials, this data will be used to assist the authorities in the fight against crime.

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Attorney General William Barr issued a rule to be published on the Federal Register on Tuesday, October 22. It is expected that federal authorities will collect DNA information from approximately 748 000 immigrants annually, including asylum seekers at legal ports of entry, writes NPR.

In the proposed regulation, Barr describes a DNA sample as a “genetic imprint” that can uniquely identify a person, “but it does not reveal a person’s traits, disorders, or dispositions.”

Legitimate permanent residents and those seeking to enter the country legally will not be affected by the new regulation. The rule will now have to go through an 20-day public comment period.

Immigrant advocates have already condemned the proposal, arguing that collecting genetic information from people crossing the border could have consequences for family members living in the United States.

“This is the most intimate information you can get from someone. This is the information you can use to find your family members and their history, ”said Noreen Shah, senior advocate and policy adviser at the American Civil Liberties Union. “And we're going to take it from people against their will.”

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Other immigrant lawyers have also criticized the proposal, saying it raises concerns about privacy and will not deter migrants from entering the United States.

“It's hard for me to believe that a woman who runs 1000 miles in torn slippers with a two year old baby on her hip does everything she can and sacrifices everything ... that she will be held back by DNA collection,” said Henry Sias, Philadelphia's civil rights lawyer which represents asylum seekers.

Federal authorities say that almost 1 million migrants were detained after crossing the southern border during the last fiscal year, but the number of migrants taken into custody in recent months has been steadily declining, which the Trump administration has linked to the dispersal of migrants at the border.

The collection of DNA information about suspected offenders is permitted by federal law, and nearly 30 states permit the collection of forensic profiles before sentencing. BuzzFeed first became aware of plans for mandatory DNA testing for hundreds of thousands of border crossers in August.

Department of Justice officials hope to send DNA information from migrants to the FBI database, known as the Combined DNA Index System, which already contains data on nearly 14 millions of people convicted of crimes, and 3,7 millions more who were arrested. The names of migrants and other personal data will not be stored with their DNA information to protect confidentiality, and the FBI will only be identified if the sample is consistent with the crime.

Officials estimate the cost of implementing the policy at 13 million dollars over 3 years. This figure includes additional hours of work for customs and border guards and the cost of providing kits for collecting DNA samples to border agents.

The Trump administration says that an extensive database of biometric information on migrants will lead to the disclosure of new crimes. But immigrant advocates object that this initiative demonizes migrants, and point to numerous studies showing that an increase in the flow of unregistered immigrants does not spur violent crime.

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Last year, more than 25 000 migrants were charged with illegal re-entry, and more than 80 000 were accused of illegally entering the country, the highest number of reported immigration offenses since federal authorities began tracking such data, officials from the Department of Justice say .

But Cias, an immigration attorney in Philadelphia, claims that getting a person’s DNA information before he is convicted of illegally crossing the border is a privacy violation that puts the criminal justice system on its head.

“This is a mix of immigration status with criminal activity that fosters an atmosphere of guilt until proven otherwise,” said Cias.

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