A little-noticed amendment to last month's renewal of the Violence Against Women Act authorized this new, sweeping DNA collection policy. The amendment, introduced by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl and Texas Senator John Cornyn, was passed on a voice vote, meaning that no legislators had to go on the record as supporting or opposing it.
Currently, the federal government takes DNA samples only from convicted felons. Seven states collect DNA samples from all arrestees, but only two of these allow the sharing of this data with the federal government.
"What this does is move the DNA collection to the arrest stage," said Erik Ablin of the Justice Department. "The general approach is to bring the collection of DNA samples into alignment with current federal fingerprint collection practices."
But lawyer Paul Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to clear those wrongly convicted, disputes the fingerprint analogy.
"Whereas fingerprints merely identify the person who left them, DNA profiles have the potential to reveal our physical diseases and mental disorders," he said. "It becomes intrusive when the government begins to mine our most intimate matters."
Other critics of the new rules have expressed concern that the DNA collection will further stigmatize illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom have committed no crimes.
Illegal entry into the United States is a civil, not a criminal, offense.
Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations for the women's rights organization Legal Momentum, pointed out that Hispanics will inevitably be over-represented in a such a migrant-focused database.
"The pervasive system of profiling in the United States will only be exacerbated by such a system," she said.