• Michael Dorritie, Thomas Pak, Pauline Huynh

Medical Students Against the Mandatory DNA Collection of Immigrants for Non-Violent Crimes: A Rally


On October 21st, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a ruling to mandate DNA collection of immigrants who come between official entry points by “strik[ing] a provision authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to exempt from the sample-collection requirement certain aliens from whom collection of DNA samples is not feasible.”

As medical students and human beings, we are strongly opposed to the mandatory collection of DNA from immigrants. DNA is highly intimate medical information. Mandatory DNA collection is an infringement of human rights. More so, it is reckless to require an agency to collect DNA when they do not have the resources and operation to appropriately collect DNA.

DNA is intimate medical information

DNA is a chemical present in every cell of every living thing. It is a string of compounds that serves as a blueprint for an organism, providing instructions that allow humans to go from one cell to almost 400 trillion.

Contained in that code is highly personal information that can be used to predict individual characteristics, health outcomes, predisposition to chronic disease, and even behavior and mental health that the individual might not be aware of. This information not only pertains to the individual, but also reveals information about their family members. Researchers are even developing technology that may be able to reconstruct the human face in 3D from a DNA sample alone.

Our DNA data contains a goldmine of revealing personal information. Therefore, it requires the utmost privacy and security. By mandating the collection of DNA for non-violent crimes, the US government would be infringing on this personal privacy.

DNA databases are a human rights concern

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy has stated explicitly that “DNA databases raise human rights concerns, including potential misuse of government surveillance.” Furthermore, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights outlawed the collection and indefinite retention of DNA profiles, noting that it was a violation of the right to personal privacy.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the expansion of a DNA database will not lead to any significant gains in the fields of law enforcement and forensics but will raise questions on the security of a person’s genetic data. The ACLU raises “privacy and civil liberties concerns” that the “[amended] rule changes the purpose of DNA collection from criminal investigation to surveillance of the population.”

Mandating collection of DNA is reckless

Mandating the DHS to collect DNA of every migrant who crosses between official entry points not only infringes on human rights but is also undeniably reckless.

The exception to the mandatory DNA collection of aliens was instituted because of possible operational exigencies or resource limitations with the DHS. These limitations still very much exist and pose a serious threat to the security of immigrants’ personal protections and genetic information.

In fact, the DHS has resource limitations with its current operation. These problems can be seen in DHS’s poor handling of immigrants, including the inaccurate tracking of women and children and the inhumane conditions of detention centers. To further require DHS to collect DNA - which is sensitive medical information that must be collected and handled with utmost care - when DHS can’t even keep track of its detainees is illogical and nonsensical.

DNA needs proper safeguards, period. Like any other medical information, genetic information - including “human DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, or metabolites” - is protected under HIPAA. DOJ’s new policy flagrantly violates the personal protection afforded by HIPAA and creates an imprudent opportunity for DHS to mishandle personal, medical, and genetic information.

Undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes

The U.S. Attorney General writes that expanding DNA databases is important for “public safety." However, this argument is incongruent with current evidence, which demonstrates that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit violent crime than US citizens. A study by the Cato Institute also shows that the older an undocumented immigrant is when they arrive, the less likely they are to become incarcerated, further emphasizing that those who chose to come to the US through undocumented means are less likely to commit crimes (Landgrave and Nowrasteh, 2019). Undocumented immigrants are less likely to be perpetrators of DUI arrests, drug arrests, and drug overdose deaths and less likely to be convicted of homicides, sex crimes, and larceny. Regardless of whether a city sees an increase or decrease in the undocumented immigrant population, it does not affect the crime rate.

This is also true regardless of the city’s sanctuary status. A study done in The Journal of Law and Economics showed similar results. The study looked at Secure Communities and found that implementation of such communities that enforce deportation did not lower the FBI's overall index crime rate or reduce the rates of violent offenses.

If the DOJ goes through with this ruling under the reasoning of public safety, then it opens a Pandora's box for U.S. citizens to lose rights to their DNA, and by extension, privacy. The DOJ could logically want to collect the DNA of all U.S. citizens because the probability that U.S. citizens will commit violent crimes is higher than that of undocumented immigrants. As medical students, we care deeply about the health of our nation, but not at the steep cost of our privacy and liberty, and certainly not when the risks of such a “public health” implementation outweigh the benefits.

What you can do to impact this proposed ruling

Action can be taken against the proposed DOJ ruling. There is a 20-day comment period for this rule starting October 22nd, 2019. The deadline to submit public comments is Nov 12, 2019, and the DOJ is required to review all the public comments. The comments will be public, but you are not required to submit personally-identifying information. We provided a template for public comment here. Please leave a public comment to the DOJ on this webpage.

Bibliography (APA 6th edition)

Chapin, A. (2019, October 8). ICE moved 700 women out of a detention center and won’t tell lawyers where they are. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ice-moved-700-women-out-of-a-detention-center-and-wont-tell-lawyers-where-they-are_n_5d9cdd55e4b087efdba3fe71?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000618&fbclid=IwAR18cw9ymbcR_f-WQedTc7l5y1j0v_0V_JKjg5yHZCi5W6UMMqq2w8Crkm4&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9sLmZhY2Vib29rLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGfqltfC56IJLKqPEBo9tF2AN6EVL5K2r5FQQghxN1f2NI1B4ehQvSW94XdQtql5208z1claWt-QWMbLcIZO9S_hzNN88ExI0FJjfk78ZSxPpqI0xxrV2WFKhraMJHfzN9k5fhhXv6X1kvmwcWWK1Q90cUFvPqSNhtcP0jY21X9_

Collection of DNA samples. 28 CFR § 28.12 (2008, December 10). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/28/28.12

DNA-Sample collection from immigration detainees; Office of the Attorney General, Department of Justice. 84 FR 56397 (proposed 2019, October 22) (to be codified at 28 CFR § 28)

Flagg, A. (2019, May 13). Is there a connection between undocumented immigrants and crime? The Marshall Project. Retrieved from https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/05/13/is-there-a-connection-between-undocumented-immigrants-and-crime

Lanard, N. (2018, May 25). Here’s how the government managed to lose track of 1,500 migrant children. Mother Jones. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/05/heres-how-the-government-managed-to-lose-track-of-1500-migrant-children/

Light, M. T., & Miller, T. (2018). Does Undocumented Immigration Increase Violent Crime?*. Criminology, 56(2), 370–401. doi: 10.1111/1745-9125.12175

Light, M. T., Miller, T., & Kelly, B. C. (2017). Undocumented Immigration, Drug Problems, and Driving Under the Influence in the United States, 1990–2014. American Journal of Public Health, 107(9), 1448–1454. doi: 10.2105/ajph.2017.303884

Long, C. (2019, April 19). DHS chief says more funds needed to handle crush of migrants. Associated Press. Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/9596a259cc024fe0ad0f27754de3450e

Marper v. The United Kingdom, [2008] ECHR 1581. (2008, December 4). Retrieved from http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2008/1581.html

Maryland v. King. (2013, June 3). Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/cases/maryland-v-king?redirect=criminal-law-reform-technology-and-liberty/maryland-v-king

Nowrasteh, A. (2018). Criminal Immigrants in Texas: Illegal Immigrant Conviction and Arrest Rates for Homicide, Sex Crimes, Larceny, and Other Crimes. Immigration Research and Policy Brief. No. 4. Retrieved from https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-research-policy-brief/criminal-immigrants-texas-illegal-immigrant

O’Brien, B. G., Collingwood, L., & El-Khatib, S. O. (2017). The Politics of Refuge: Sanctuary Cities, Crime, and Undocumented Immigration. Urban Affairs Review, 55(1), 3–40. doi: 10.1177/1078087417704974

United Nations, General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy: note by the Secretariat. A/HRC/31/64. (2016, November 24). Retrieved from https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/31/64


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