WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration said Friday it will soon begin collecting DNA samples from undocumented immigrants who are detained in the U.S., spurring privacy concerns from civil rights groups.
The Justice Department said in a statement that DNA collected from “non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States” will be saved in a federal police database.
The new rule, which was originally announced in October and finalized on Friday, authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to start implementing the collection of genetic samples from immigrants under the DNA Fingerprint Act.
“Today’s rule assists federal agencies in implementing longstanding aspects of our immigration laws as passed by bipartisan majorities of Congress,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement. “Its implementation will help to enforce federal law with the use of science.”
The Justice Department says the rule will ensure that all federal agencies comply with the fingerprint law, which was part of a larger legislative package that passed the House of Representatives 415-4 and unanimously by the Senate in 2005.
“The amendment removes a provision authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to exempt from the sample collection requirement certain aliens from whom collection of DNA samples is not feasible because of operational exigencies or resource limitations,” the final rule signed by Attorney General William Barr states.
The DNA Fingerprint Act gives the attorney general the ability to draft regulations to authorize and direct any federal agency to collect DNA samples from detained immigrants who are convicted or could be facing charges.
Before announcing the rule change, Homeland Security and the Justice Department worked collaboratively to create a pilot program.
Advocates for immigrants’ rights, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke out Friday against the plan and the pilot program, which they say has already commenced.
“Congress should immediately prevent any taxpayer dollars from being used to fund this xenophobic program, which seeks to further dehumanize immigrants in detention and raises significant civil liberties and privacy concerns,” Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel with the ACLU, said in a statement.
Last year, the ACLU and more than 35,000 of its supporters submitted public comments urging the Trump administration to abandon the plan.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology also joined the ACLU in trying to prevent the rule from taking effect.
“Collecting the genetic blueprints of people in immigration detention doesn’t make us safer — it makes it easier for the government to attack immigrant communities, and brings us one step closer to the government knocking on all of our doors demanding our DNA under the same flawed justification that we may one day commit a crime,” Shah said.
The attorney general’s rule document dismisses those critical comments, saying they are “not well founded” because the rule identifies who is subject to the DNA collection.
“Some comments objected that this rulemaking is not sufficiently clear about what persons are subject to DNA-sample collection. Some even claimed that it is unclear whether lawful permanent resident aliens are included in the DNA-sample collection requirement for non-U.S.-person detainees, though the regulation explicitly says that they are not,” the document states.