The Trump administration plans to dramatically expand the collection of biometric data from immigrants, sparking fears that an already-marginalized group will be placed under deep and permanent surveillance.
The proposals would authorize the use of biometrics “beyond background checks to include identity verification, secure document production, and records management,” the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday.
US immigration services already collect fingerprints, photographs, and signatures from people over the age of 14 applying for certain immigration benefits. But under the new rules, they would also be allowed to obtain iris scans, voice prints, palm prints, and photos for facial recognition.
In addition, DHS would be permitted to collect DNA to “verify claims of genetic relationships” between adults and minors in the department’s custody.
According to a draft of the policy seen by BuzzFeed News, the government would be authorized to get this data at any time before an individual obtains citizenship — regardless of their age — to ensure that they’re under continuous “vetting.” Immigration authorities would also be permitted to request this data from US citizen sponsors.
“This would create a permanent biometric database on immigration applicants (including children) AND US citizen sponsors,” said privacy attorney Calli Shroeder in a tweet. “There is enormous potential for harm for virtually no benefit.”
Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposals would radically change the US’s immigration system:
Collecting a massive database of genetic blueprints won’t make us safer — it will simply make it easier for the government to surveil and target our communities and to bring us closer to a dystopian nightmare. Trump’s goal is clear: to shut down the legal immigration system and make immigration as difficult as possible. Will Congress let him?
Hopefully not, and not only for the benefit of immigrants. Because they may well be a test group for expanding biometric surveillance across the country.
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