DOJ Rule Change on Immigrant DNA collection

How to comment: 

Comments on this rule change close at midnight on Nov 12, 2019

Comment Text  (for copy/paste into comment field)

We are Indivisible Montgomery, a grassroots organization of nearly 1,700 members in Montgomery County, Maryland. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposal to collect DNA samples from detained non-United States citizens and retain their genetic information. We strongly object to this proposed rule change.

–This proposed rule change violates the privacy of the individuals whose DNA is collected and their relatives–many of whom are residents and citizens of the United States.

At a time when issues around genetic privacy are in flux and the U.S. government’s computer systems have been subject to numerous serious data breaches, we believe that taking DNA samples from people who have committed no crime and storing this information in a federal database is morally reprehensible and indefensible. Previous administrations decided, with good cause, that this is bad policy and the intervening history of the federal government further supports the case against collecting and storing genetic information without a strong and compelling justification. Furthermore, advances in genetic identification and analysis make the potential inadvertent release of genetic information from these databases far more damaging than ever before.

Many detained migrants have family members who are residents or citizens of the United States. The collection and storage of DNA information from migrants poses a privacy risk to these family members as well. The DOJ has not indicated how they plan to mitigate the risk of these DNA collection efforts on US residents and citizens. Without a clear justification of how the DOJ will protect US residents and citizens from inadvertent identification, this policy must not be implemented.

–The immigration court system is overburdened and under-resourced and this money would be better spent addressing a legitimate problem with a clear solution.

The $13 million that would be spent on this program would be better used in relieving the backlog of cases currently waiting review in our overburdened immigration court system. We believe that providing migrants with rapid adjudication of their immigration cases would do far more for public safety and national security than a poorly thought-out plan to collect DNA from an unhelpfully broad population of people, many of whom have committed no crime.

–Conflating immigrants and criminals promotes dangerous stereotypes that pose a serious risk to the lives of people exercising their legal rights to seek asylum in our country.

Adding migrant DNA to a database of convicted criminals conflates migrants with criminals and demonizes immigrants in our country. Furthermore, adding migrant DNA to this database will reduce the effectiveness of the database by contributing to a higher false-positive rate for detected DNA as a function of database complexity. This poorly conceived policy might actually decrease public safety with the addition of samples from a large population that, studies have shown, is less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population.

–The policy represents a de facto requirement of DNA collection for entry to the United States, even if it is presented as a “voluntary policy” because it will be seen as compulsory if people think a lack of compliance might make them less likely to gain entry.

By implementing this policy, the DOJ is creating a new standard for entry into the United States–that one must be prepared to relinquish their genetic privacy. Regardless of whether the policy is stated as voluntary, the perception will be that submitting a DNA sample is required for entry.  This de facto requirement sets a dangerous precedent and should be considered thoughtfully and carefully, not haphazardly rushed as this rule change has been (for example, limiting the public comment period to 21 days and the failure to present a risk mitigation plan).

We ask the DOJ to reconsider its plans and not move forward with this proposed rule change. It is a dangerous, ill-conceived plan that holds the potential to seriously damage the privacy rights of both those whose DNA is collected and their relatives, including law-abiding residents and citizens of the United States.


Indivisible Montgomery