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Trump admin proposes DNA testing on detained, undocumented immigrants

Immigrants, mostly from Central America, travel toward an immigration processing center in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
Immigrants, mostly from Central America, travel toward an immigration processing center in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration proposed expanding its DNA testing program to include undocumented immigrants in government custody, per a draft copy of the plan obtained by Buzzfeed News.

What we know: The Department of Justice proposal would allow the extraction of DNA from undocumented immigrants in Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) custody. If implemented, hundreds of thousands of people could be subjected to testing annually, adding an expected 20,000 work hours for CBP officials. The proposal does not prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from participating in the testing, but does require them to do so, either.

What they're saying: A Department of Homeland Security official told Buzzfeed they are "working closely with the Department of Justice on a path forward for DNA collection."

  • The official referenced a pilot program with ICE from earlier in 2019 that issued voluntary DNA tests to immigrants trying to prove familial relationships.

Between the lines: Per Buzzfeed, "Administration officials cite a statute — the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 — that allows federal agencies to test individuals in their custody, including those who are not American. But previous DOJ regulations exempted agencies under the Department of Homeland Security — including CBP and ICE — from conducting such testing in certain circumstances."

  • But in 2010, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano weakened the exception to only protect people who were not detained on criminal charges and others who were waiting on deportation procedures. The latest proposal would scrap the protections entirely.

Administration officials are arguing the expansion of DNA testing is essential for border protection and assessing individuals entering the country illegally.

Go deeper: TSA launches new facial recognition test in Vegas airport