Stop taking DNA samples from detained migrants, lawmakers tell DHS

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Democrats: Pilot program in Texas and Michigan is 'serious human rights issue'

In this Sept. 27, 2016 file photo, Haitians make their way towards the border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. The Trump administration is planning to expand the collection of DNA from migrants who cross the U.S. border, and to include the information in a massive criminal database operated by the FBI (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, file)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Two Texas lawmakers and one from Michigan want the Trump administration to stop taking DNA from detained migrants as young as 14 in their states.

The three on Tuesday sent a letter to Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf giving him until Feb. 3 to explain what is being done with the DNA and whether its collection steers resources away from criminal and rape cases.

DHS on Jan. 6 started the 90-day pilot program at the Eagle Pass port of entry in Texas and the U.S. Border Patrol’s Detroit sector. The agency says it wants to asses the impact of a proposed regulation requiring DNA samples from certain individuals for submission to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. The samples are being collected via buccal cheek swab.

“We believe the forced collection of DNA samples from families and individuals detained at our borders is a serious human rights issue,” says the letter signed by U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar and Joaquin Castro of Texas, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, all Democrats.

The lawmakers expressed concern about loss of privacy, possible incrimination and family separations stemming from the DNA information gathered.

“The criminalization of immigrant communities is another consequence of this policy that must be addressed. DNA collected … will be stored on the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, indicating DNA samples are being used to investigate past and future crimes,” the members of Congress said in their letter.

By stating that individuals could be subject to DNA testing solely because they entered the country illegally, the DHS policy reinforces “the xenophobic myth” that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born residents, the letter says.

And then there’s the issue of an administrative backlog at labs that process criminal evidence.

“The volume of untested sexual assault kits has outpaced resources to test process and profile samples in crime labs. The fact that labs will need to spend additional time processing and inputting hundreds of thousands of DNA samples into CODIS could potentially exacerbate the backlog of untested sexual assault kits,” the federal legislators said.

The letter urges DHS to end the pilot DNA program and respond to their concerns by Feb. 3.

The federal agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Border Report. Previously, DHS said it has the legal authority to effect the DNA collection.

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