Press Release

IACHR expresses concern over migrant DNA collection and policies restricting the mobility of migrant persons in the United States

November 1, 2019

   Related links

   Contact info

IACHR Press Office
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The IACHR expresses its concern over the migration policies that have recently been adopted by the United States, which affect the mobility of migrant persons and may derive in profiling practices. The IACHR urges the United States to respect and ensure human rights of all persons in its territory, including migrants, without distinction on the basis of race, national origin, or any other protected status.

According to publicly available information, on October 2, authorities from the Department of Homeland Security announced that they were developing a plan to authorize the collection of DNA samples from migrants entering US territory to compile a national database of criminal profiles. In addition to this, the IACHR has also taken note of the policy announced on October 4 regarding the suspension and limitations on entry for persons who cannot demonstrate their capacity to cover approved health insurance within 30 days of entry into the United States, or the financial resources to pay for medical costs. This regulation will come into effect on November 3 and will apply to persons whose visas are being processed abroad.

Over the course of its ongoing monitoring programs, the IACHR has observed the implementation of restrictive migration measures and profiling in the United States. While these may appear to be neutral, they may have discriminatory effects and cause disproportionate harm to certain historically vulnerable groups including migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees through their application. In this regard, the IACHR once again urges the State to examine, avoid, and completely eliminate practices or policies that explicitly or implicitly result in unequal treatment.

In line with the above, the IACHR expresses its concern over the risks that a DNA collection mechanism would pose to the rights to privacy and the use of personal data, if one were established. To this end, the IACHR recalls that States have different obligations around personal data they store in databases and which may lead to the identification of individuals—including biometric data such as fingerprints, DNA, iris recognition data, and voice recognition data. These obligations include: (i) observing strict criteria of necessity and proportionality when determining which biological and behavioral data to collect and which collection methods to use; ii) establishing collection protocols that respect human rights; and iii) guaranteeing the right of access to information regarding current policies and practices, the type of information collected, and how this information is used. This process must be subject to both administrative and judicial oversight and the State must investigate any human rights violations that come to its attention in the course of these practices.

“It is a source of serious concern that the US administration is applying restrictions to human mobility and implementing migrant profiling, including DNA testing,” said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, the IACHR Rapporteur on the rights of migrants. “This is evidence of an emphasis on criminalization within migration policy and its heightening discrimination and hate speech targeting the migrant population, about which the IACHR has already expressed its concern,” he added.

Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur for the United States, stressed that “this announcement that the migrant population would be subject to DNA testing points to a scenario that is of great concern for the IACHR, prompting us to reiterate our call for the State to adopt the necessary measures to comprehensively review and reform the protocols and guidelines of government entities that are implementing profiling mechanisms and restricting the mobility of migrant persons in the United States.”

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 279/19