Trump wants to force immigrants to submit biometric information

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The Trump administration has drafted a proposal that would dramatically increase the number of people required to provide biometric data for their immigration applications, while also increasing the personal information the government may require, such as eye scanners, voiceprints , DNA and photographs for facial recognition. .

According to parts of a draft policy obtained by BuzzFeed News, the government would be allowed to request biometrics from immigrants who have received certain benefits, such as a green card or work permit, at any time until they are US citizens to ensure continuous “verification.”

If implemented, the proposed rule would represent a massive change in the Department of Homeland Security’s collection of personal information from immigrants and U.S. citizens and is likely to raise concerns among privacy advocates and immigrants. .

“It’s staggering,” said Ur Jaddou, a former senior official with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). “They are using language that is too general in the law to justify a massive and unprecedented expansion to collect truly personal information that they seem to plan to keep and use in perpetuity. What is the reason for this? What is the problem they are trying to solve? “

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment. But in a statement, confirmed that it plans to release a finalized version of the policy for public review. The proposed rule “improves the screening and verification process and reduces our reliance on paper documents and biographical information to prove identity and family relationships,” the DHS added.

“This proposed rule removes any ambiguity surrounding the Department’s use of biometrics, setting clear standards for how and why we collect and use this information,” Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Ken said. Cuccinelli in the press release. “Leveraging readily available technology to verify the identity of someone we are screening is responsible governance. Collecting biometric information also protects against identity theft and thwarts fraudsters who are not who they claim to be. “

But Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the regulations were “in line with what this administration wanted to do – increase extreme control over arriving immigrants – but it is possible to go too far and make a examination that is not necessary. That’s 10 steps too many. “

The additional biometric data offered by the administration, according to the draft regulation, could also help immigrants and those involved in their petitions to more easily verify their identity. At the same time, he will work to fulfill the Trump administration’s wishes to crack down on alleged fraud in the immigration system.

Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that “collecting a huge database of genetic blueprints will not make us safer – it will just make monitoring easier. and the government’s targeting of 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,” she added.

The draft proposal would directly affect applications from USCIS, which processes green cards and visas for family members, highly skilled workers, refugees, and asylum seekers, among others, as well as documents for employment authorization.

The policy cites a statutory authority that allows DHS to require the collection of biometric data from anyone involved in an immigration benefit and asserts that expanding collection would help strengthen the government’s ability to accurately identify individuals. people.

USCIS officers usually only need the fingerprints, signature, and photo of adults who are foreign nationals and over the age of 14 hoping to gain certain immigration benefits, such as visas. temporary, green cards and citizenship.

The proposed regulations, however, would change the procedure to ensure that everyone associated with an immigration benefit, from U.S. citizen sponsors to applicants themselves, would be required to report for biometric data collection, unless otherwise specified. contrary to USCIS. There would also be no age limit for collecting this information, which would allow the government to obtain biometric data from under 14s.

Additionally, DHS would expand the types of biometric data that could be collected to include scans of eye iris images, palm prints, voice prints and DNA in cases where the family relationship needs to be verified. , depending on the project. 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 over the phone or without physical contact.

Last year, the Trump administration allowed immigration officials to begin collecting DNA samples from undocumented immigrants being detained.

The new draft regulations, which will be subject to public comment and will not take effect immediately, would also open the door for immigration authorities to take DNA samples from government-detained families to verify if they are linked. It would also allow biometric collection of anyone picked up by DHS and being deported from the United States. Last year, border officials launched a pilot program to take DNA samples from people suspected of faking family relationships.

The draft regulations say it hopes to shift the government’s current approach of not requiring biometrics in certain situations only to one in which biometrics is still required, unless the government determines that it is not necessary.

“It subjects a huge population to additional surveillance,” Pierce said.

In late 2017, Paul Hunter, former head of biometric strategy for USCIS, told a trade publication at a conference that the agency was looking to add iris scans, voiceprints, and l ‘DNA to their biometric fingerprint to help not only speed up their processing of certain applications but to increase the security of the immigration system, according to to a report in FCW.

Privacy advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have long found problems with iris scans, pointing out that they can not only be faulty in certain situations, such as if an individual has an inflamed eye. , but the creation of iris scan databases can be compromised, leaving very sensitive information at risk. Law enforcement officials, including some sheriff’s departments, are already deploying iris scans.

The proposal, if instituted, could potentially create even more hurdles for immigrants at a time when USCIS is struggling financially. USCIS officials have warned since the spring that the agency, which is funded primarily by fees, was running out of money due to a drop in claims during the pandemic and needed an influx of 1.2 billion dollars from Congress.

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