Trump Admin Formalizes 'Orwellian' Proposal Forcing Immigrants to Submit DNA, Eye Scans

A proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeking to expand the collection of biometrics data from immigrants has been published in the Federal Register.

The proposal, which is open for commenting until October 13, could lead to the vast collection of data, including DNA, iris scans, facial images, palm prints, and voice prints of millions of people each year, including U.S. citizens.

Not only would the rule allow for biometric data to be gathered from immigrants, but it could also be requested from non-citizens already in the U.S. and from citizens seeking to bring relatives into the country.

The data would be stored in DHS databases, with the potential of being maintained indefinitely and shared with law enforcement, sparking alarm among immigration and human rights advocates.

"It's an enormous change and one of the most consequential the Trump administration has made to the legal immigration system yet," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told Newsweek on Friday.

"It represents the single biggest expansion of surveillance into the immigration system in generations."

In Reichlin-Melnick's view, the bid is "yet another attempt by the Trump administration to stigmatize and discourage legal immigration" to the U.S. However, he said, the plan risks turning the U.S. into a "surveillance state for immigrants."

In a statement published on Twitter on Thursday, Anna Gallagher, the executive director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) appeared to agree, branding the plan "Orwellian."

The proposal, Gallagher said, "goes against our fundamental belief in the dignity of the person and the sanctity of family."

"It is a 328-page instruction manual for overbroad government data collection and an affront to our democracy," she said.

"Both immigrants and U.S. citizens will have their DNA, irises, voices, faces and other personal characteristics captured and stored in government databases, potentially forever.

"Even survivors of trafficking and domestic violence, including children, will have to comply or be ineligible for protection.

"Reading through the draft proposed language is truly chilling. The administration should put the brakes on this proposed rule immediately."

In the proposal, the immigration bodies said the biometrics collected would be stored and "used to verify an individual's identity in subsequent encounters with DHS."

"These encounters could vary from travel to and from the United States, where an individual may encounter CBP officers, to arrest and detention, by law enforcement components such as ICE, to initiation of removal proceedings," they said.

The proposal also states, however, that "USCIS is authorized to share relevant information with law enforcement...including 'biometrics' for identity verification and, consequently, it may share DNA test results, which include a partial DNA profile, with other agencies as it does other record information pursuant to existing law."

Already, the DHS has had a pilot program in place since July 2019 that has seen biometric data collected from groups presenting themselves as family units at the U.S. border.

Using Rapid DNA testing technologies, the DHS had been using the program to identify "suspected fraudulent families," or children who are potentially being exploited.

According to the Trump administration's new proposal, the DHS encountered 1,747 self-identified family units that were suspected of fraud. After undergoing screening, the DHS identified 432 "fraudulent family claims."

In its proposal, the Trump administration says the collection of biometric data from children would "permit definitive identification of them and may show that they have been reported missing."

Generally, it said the DHS would use the biometric information collected from children "for identity management in the immigration lifecycle only," however, it said the DHS would retain the authority "for other uses in its discretion."

That means that the DHS could use the data for background checks, as well as for law enforcement purposes.

In a statement promoting the proposal earlier this month, Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the DHS deputy secretary, said: "This proposed rule eliminates any ambiguity surrounding the department's use of biometrics, setting clear standards for how and why we collect and use this information.

"Leveraging readily available technology to verify the identity of an individual we are screening is responsible governing."

Newsweek has contacted the DHS for comment.

Biometric data
An arriving passenger uses a new biometric scanner at George H. W. Bush Intercontinental Airport February 1, 2008 in Houston, Texas. The U.S. has formalized a proposal to expand the collection of biometric data from immigrants. Dave Einsel/Getty