Skip to Content
Biotechnology

DNA samples may be taken from migrants at the US-Mexico border to share with the FBI

October 3, 2019
People walk towards the US border crossing in Mexico
People walk towards the US border crossing in MexicoAssociated Press

The news: Two senior Homeland Security officials have revealed that the Department of Justice is drafting plans to increase DNA collection from migrants who cross the US-Mexico border. The information would be added to a huge criminal database operated by the FBI, the Associated Press reports. The purpose and timing of the plan is unclear, and we don’t know whether it would apply to solitary children or people claiming asylum, for example. It would be different from existing rapid DNA testing done at the border to detect adults falsely posing as parents.

Surveillance fears: If implemented, the plan would vastly expand government collection of biometric data from people who are not suspected of any crime, other than crossing the border illegally. Currently, migrants who cross the border illegally are fingerprinted, and those fingerprints are added to federal databases that can be accessed by law enforcement agencies (both state and local).

DNA is collected only in certain instances when someone is arrested on federal charges. This new plan changes the purpose of DNA collection from criminal investigation to surveilling the population, Vera Eidelman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press.

Practicality: Beyond worries over government overreach, it’s not even clear if the plan could be implemented. It would require government officials to collect cheek swabs from potentially hundreds of thousands of people, requiring a huge expansion in funding and resources.

Correction: This story originally said the migrants whose DNA would be collected "are not accused of any crime." It has since been updated to clarify they are "not suspected of any crime other than crossing the border illegally."

Sign up here for our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?

There’s a robust molecular language being spoken between your muscles and your brain.

The quest to show that biological sex matters in the immune system

A handful of immunologists are pushing the field to take attributes such as sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive tissues into account.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.