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'Dystopian' Plan by Trump Administration to Harvest DNA From Undocumented Immigrants Draws Outrage From Rights Advocates

"Expansion from tracking individuals suspected of crimes to creating permanent files on whole classes of people is one of the hallmarks of a concentration camp regime."

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Federal officials confirmed Wednesday that the government will move forward with a plan to harvest DNA from undocumented immigrants for storage in a database, an announcement that drew immediate condemnation from immigrant rights activists and other observers. 

According to reports, Department of Homeland Secrurity (DHS) is waiting for regulatory language from the Justice Department in order to move forward with the plan.

Immigrant rights group RAICES tweeted Wednesday that there is no time to waste for rights groups to challenge the proposal. 

"We need to shut this effort down immediately," the group said, "and given the government is hell-bent on introducing dangerous surveillance to border regions first, we know that our energies must be focused on the companies who will supply DHS with these technologies."

"Forced DNA collection raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns and lacks justification, especially when DHS is already using less intrusive identification methods like fingerprinting," ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman said in a statement. 

Eidelman added that the potential for abuse of the information is real and dangerous. 

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"This kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance," she said, "which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy."

Advocacy group Voto Latino said on Twitter that the proposal was "dystopian" and referred to the president's reported desire for a militarized border with moats filled with snakes and alligators and spiked fencing. 

"Such private info from vulnerable migrants does not belong to anyone, let alone the person who wants snake filled moats at the border," the group tweeted.

The ACLU's Eidelman echoed that warning about privacy and abuse. 

"Our DNA not only reveals deeply personal information about us, but also information about our relatives," said Eidelman. "This means the administration's racist immigration policies will also implicate the rights of family members in other countries and family members here, including American citizens."

Andrea Pitzer, a journalist whose book "One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps" has led her to point out the similarities between camps of the past and those on the southern U.S. border today, said it was ominous that the DNA collection appears to be designed to catalog ethnic groups, as opposed to serving a criminal or law enforcement purpose.

"Expansion from tracking individuals suspected of crimes to creating permanent files on whole classes of people is one of the hallmarks of a concentration camp regime," said Pitzer. 

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