Trump Administration Seeks to Expand Biometric Data Collection for Immigrants

The Trump Administration is seeking to expand biometric data collection for those seeking U.S. citizenship. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed the administration’s plan through the publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on September 1.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently requires biometric data such as fingerprints, photographs and signatures from anyone over the age of 14 who applies for certain immigration benefits like a green card or work permit. This rule change would require many other visa-holders to provide biometrics as well. It would also expand the type of data collected to include DNA, eye scans, voice prints and photographs for facial recognition. The government would be allowed to request such biometrics at any point up until the individual is granted citizenship.

The notice is a move towards “modernizing” the biometrics collection process. By proposing a standard for the collection, DHS eliminates any ambiguity while improving the screening and vetting process by moving away from the dependence on paper documentation. Additionally, such tools will improve accuracy and efficiency as eye scans and facial recognition are fast, accurate ways to confirm the identity of an applicant that don’t require physical contact.

By collecting such data, the Department also greatly improves security, guarding the process, and to a greater extent, the American people, from identity theft and fraud. The proposed rule would allow DHS to collect genetic data from immigrants entering via chain migration when they are unable to provide “sufficient documentary evidence” to support the claimed relationship.

DNA would be collected from the applicant and the sponsor in order to establish family units. This would be especially helpful in cases where an illegal alien is apprehended and they claim to be related to a child that is with them. Through the proof of genetic evidence, DHS can ensure a “bona fide genetic relationship” between the adult and child, thus safeguarding the child from potential harm if the claimed relationship is fraudulent.

Biometrics would also prove to be extremely beneficial in screening out known criminals from entering. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) notes the misspelling or inaccurate reporting of names is an ongoing issue. The 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks had “over 300 spellings of their names.” Similarly, the name of the Boston Marathon bomber was spelled differently on a flight manifest – information that would have provided the FBI with important leads regarding his ties to terrorism. Biometric information can be checked against international databases when biographic information is faulty. You can change your name, or the spelling of your name, but changing biometric information is not so easily accomplished.

Finally, a modernized and efficient biometrics system would aid the DHS and USCIS in accurately tracking the entry and exit of visa holders and travelers. Entry and exit biometrics are required by law under 8 U.S. Code § 1365b, however, Congress has not taken the necessary steps to actually implement and enforce this measure.

It is estimated that half of the illegal immigrant population is a result of visa overstays. And while visa overstays are reported annually, the DHS admits to an inability to be able to calculate the totals accurately due to insufficient technology. Biographic information alone, such as passport numbers or names, are not sufficient ways to confirm identity and biological relationship.

The U.S. has several procedures to gather biometrics upon entry, and in FY 2019, new exit tests enabled continued progress toward the biometric and biographic verification of travelers. However, with such high numbers of immigration and tourism, the U.S. struggles to maintain order and prevent visa overstays. A system which integrates biometric and biographic data would improve Customs and Border Patrol’s ability to accurately capture and report immigration data.

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