Homeland Security has collected DNA data from 1.5 million immigrants
Homeland Security has collected DNA data from 1.5 million immigrants in four years Via Pexels

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased the collection of DNA profiles from immigrants by 5,000% by adding over 1.5 million profiles to a federal database since 2020, according to a report published by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology.

The research center, which focuses on "exposing and opposing government and corporate surveillance in the digital age," as described on its website, attributed the drastic increase to a rule change in 2020 within the Department of Justice, instituted during the Trump administration and maintained by the Biden administration. Said rule empowers the Department of Homeland Security to collect DNA from anyone who has been detained by agents at the border or within the country.

As the study states:

DHS can compel DNA samples from anyone the agency "detains." While limiting DHS DNA collection to only those the agency detains might seem like a serious limitation, our report finds that it is nothing of the sort. The term "detained" in the immigration context is both broad and vague, so as a practical matter almost nobody is categorically excluded from DNA collection by the requirement that they first be "detained." Once DHS collects DNA, it sends the samples to the FBI, where the FBI adds profiles created from the samples to the nation's criminal policing DNA database, CODIS, and stores the samples themselves indefinitely. Once in CODIS, the profiles become accessible to police at the local, state, federal, and international levels for use in criminal investigations.

The report highlights that the Department of Homeland Security collects DNA samples "without following any of the procedural norms it is supposed to adhere to," raising questions about potential violations of immigrants' rights and the program's constitutionality. In fact, according to the report's co-author Emerald Tse, many of the immigrants whose DNA has been collected did not understand that it was being used to populate a criminal database.

Among other findings, the report stated that if Homeland Security agents continue collecting DNA at the rate the agency projects, one-third of the profiles in the federal database used for criminal investigations will be from migrants and immigrants.

The report goes on to call on the Biden administration and Congress to "put an immediate stop to this program" adding that "we must stop DHS from raiding the genome."

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