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  • Migrant men sit on the ground after being detained by law enforcement for illegally crossing the Rio Grande and attempting to evade capture in Hidalgo, Texas, U.S., August 23, 2019.

    Migrant men sit on the ground after being detained by law enforcement for illegally crossing the Rio Grande and attempting to evade capture in Hidalgo, Texas, U.S., August 23, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 October 2019

The Justice Department said the proposed rule would be officially published on Tuesday and subject to 20 days of public comment.

The United States government released a plan Monday proposing to take systematic DNA samples from migrants detained by U.S. authorities, raising important privacy concerns especially for asylum-seekers and minor offenders whose genetic information would go into an FBI database.

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The rule proposes collecting DNA samples from any migrant "detained under the authority of the United States," which could include first-time border crossers whose offense is a misdemeanor.

In addition, U.S. President Donald Trump has long linked his racist anti-migration policies to crime-fighting, even though multiple studies show migrants commit less crime than native-born people.  Trump's migration aide Stephen Miller has claimed that DNA collection could help detect fraud and solve cold criminal cases.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have raised privacy and civil liberties concerns, including that the samples can reveal information about relatives of the detained. The ACLU also said the rule changes the purpose of DNA collection from criminal investigation to surveillance of the population.

"This proposed change in policy is extraordinary in its breadth and transparent with its xenophobic goals," the ACLU's senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah said in a statement.

"It seeks to miscast these individuals, many of whom are seeking a better life or safety, as threats to the country's security. And it turns immigration detention, which is supposed to be civil and not punitive, into a proxy to strip these individuals of their privacy rights," Shah added.

The rule would create exceptions for foreigners being processed for legal entry to the U.S., which could include asylum-seekers who apply at a legal port of entry but might not include those who cross the border without documented and apply for asylum upon being detained.

So far, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was running the pilot program "Operation Double Helix," officially supposed to determine family ties between children and parents in custody. However, the new program would obtain a "fuller scope" DNA profile of migrants, according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

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