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‘Disturbing’ New Proposal Would Vastly Expand DHS’s Ability to Obtain Immigrants’ Biometric Data, Lawyers Say


The Trump administration is preparing to propose a new rule that would vastly enhance the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) authority to demand biometric data information from immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday. According to a draft of the proposal, the government would be permitted to demand biometric details such as DNA, eye scans, voice prints, and facial recognition photos from any immigrant applicant who’s been issued a green card or work permit. The immigrant applicant would be subject to such demands at any point until they are granted U.S. citizenship.

The policy would be a significant shift from previous protocols, under which immigrant applicants were only required to provide U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with a photograph, signature, and fingerprints to obtain the vast majority of immigration benefits.

“The draft regulation, however, would change the procedure to make it so everyone associated with an immigration benefit, from U.S. citizen sponsors to applicants themselves, would be required to appear for biometrics collection unless told otherwise by USCIS,” the BuzzFeed report stated. “What’s more, DHS would expand the types of biometrics that could be collected to include eye iris image scans, palm prints, voice prints, and DNA in instances in which familial relationship is necessary to be verified, according to the draft. The expansion of biometrics that could be collected is part of the agency’s efforts to keep up with ‘technological developments’ and allow agency officials to easily identify individuals on the phone or without physical contact.”

The proposal, which also does away with the 14-year-old age limit for collecting biometrics, has yet to be subjected to public comments, but it clearly has immigration attorneys worried.

“This is one of the most disturbing policies put forward by this administration,” wrote immigration lawyer and analyst for the Migration Policy Institute Sarah Pierce. “It would subject tens of millions of noncitizens to being called in at any point by USCIS  for an invasive biometrics exam including fingerprints, iris scan, DNA, voice print, [and] photographs.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, emphasized the effects the policy could have on U.S. citizens.

“Not only would this proposed rule permit US Citizenship and Immigration Services to repeatedly take DNA samples, iris scans, voice prints, and fingerprints from immigrants (including kids),” he wrote, “it would also require US citizens petitioning for their loved ones to submit to the same.”

Reached for comment, a DHS spokesperson reportedly told BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz that the agency “does not comment on leaked documents.”

Just over an hour after BuzzFeed’s story was published, however, DHS announced that publication of the new proposal was “imminent.”

[image via SAUL LOEB_AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.