The Trump administration will begin collecting DNA samples from some migrants in US Customs and Border Protection custody as part of a pilot program, something it says will allow the agency to be in compliance with an upcoming regulation change.
In October, the Department of Justice proposed eliminating the ability of Homeland Security to limit its DNA collections, prompting the pilot program. It’s the latest attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to expand DNA collection.
Last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another agency within DHS, deployed DNA testing at locations along the US-Mexico border to determine familial relationships amid concerns that some individuals were posing as families to eventually be released into the US.
The proposed rule, which is expected to be finalized soon, would also require that DNA samples be submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS.
The DNA database allows federal, state and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically in an attempt to link crimes to known offenders.
The Department of Homeland Security has been operating under exceptions put in place a decade ago. In 2010, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano requested an exemption for DNA collection from the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, including for migrants in custody who weren’t facing criminal charges or those pending deportation proceedings, citing a lack of agency resources at the time to gather DNA.
The 90-day pilot will be implemented by US Border Patrol in the Detroit region, as well as at the Eagle Pass port of entry in southwest Texas, the agency said.
Under the pilot, US Border Patrol will collect DNA from individuals between ages 14-79, who are arrested and processed. At the port of entry, customs officials will collect DNA from people who are subject to further detention or proceedings.
In August, the US Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency, urged CBP to begin collecting DNA samples from criminal detainees. The office is not related to the work former special counsel Robert Mueller did on the 2016 election.
“CBP’s noncompliance with the law has allowed criminal detainees to walk free,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner at the time.
The OSC alert came after whistleblowers notified the agency that CBP “has evaded this law over the last decade citing a temporary Obama-era exception.”
OSC also urged the Department of Justice to review the status and implementation of the 2010 waiver.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.