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DHS Expands Use of Biometric Data in Immigration

Homeland Security Expands Use of Biometric Data in Immigration

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) announced plans to expand the use of biometric data in determining family relationships for immigration purposes. A proposed rule with the new protocols for biometrics use is expected to be published soon. This rule is also said to allow more uses of new technology as they become available.

The Use of Biometric Data in Immigration

The proposed rule will give the DHS the authority to require biometrics use for every application, petition, or related immigration matter. The current practice by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires biometrics only for applications that require background checks. This new rule is intended to give the DHS broad authority to use biometrics technology. The DHS can use voiceprints, iris scans, palm prints, and facial photos, as well as additional technologies developed in the future.

“As those technologies become available and can be incorporated as appropriate, it gives the agency the flexibility to utilize them. And then it also would give the agency the authority down the road, as new technologies become available and are reliable, secure, etc., to pivot to using those, as well,” said one USCIS official. And while children under age 14 are now generally exempt from the collection of biometric data, the proposed rule will also remove the age restriction.

DNA can be collected by the agency to verify a genetic relationship where establishing a genetic or familial relationship is a prima facie requirement of receiving an immigration benefit. Though the raw DNA will not be stored by the DHS, the test results will be saved in the immigrant’s Alien file, also known as the “A-file.” The A-file is the official file that the DHS maintains with all of the immigrant’s immigration and naturalization records. Any such information collected may be shared with law enforcement, but there is no procedural change in other agencies gaining access to the A-files.

Reactions From Immigration Leaders

The additional collection of biometric data will not result in an increase in existing filing fees, as the cost is covered under new filing fees set to go effect October 2, 2020. The DHS has emphasized that the biometrics rule is to be given top priority; nevertheless, it will undergo the standard review process.

This proposed rule quickly drew severe criticism from pro-immigration activists. Andrea Flores from the American Civil Liberties Union called it an “unprecedented” collection of personal information from immigrants and U.S. citizens. She said, “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.”

DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli welcomed the rule, stating that “leveraging readily available technology to verify the identity of an individual we are screening is responsible governing.” He added that “the collection of biometric information also guards against identity theft and thwarts fraudsters who are not who they claim to be.”

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