EDITORIAL: Down the slope

Foes of migrant DNA collection don’t realize extent of database

Many people are up in arms about government plans to collect DNA samples from immigrants.

President Trump has long promoted the idea, and in January details were released about its implementation.

The critics might not realize how widespread DNA collection already is, and the likelihood that their own information already is in the database.

Department of Homeland Security officials announced that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would begin taking genetic samples of migrants detained in Detroit and Eagle Pass. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also will collect samples from new migrants they process. About 1 million people will be expected to surrender tissue samples in the initial phase of the process.

Genetic information collected from the detainees will be added to a federal database that is used to identify criminals and their victims, accident victims and others.

Under regulations drawn up by the Justice Department, anyone who resists the invasive procedure of having a swab inserted in their mouths to scrape tissue from their cheeks will be charged with a federal misdemeanor.

Thus criminalized, the migrants will then be subject to automatic deportation.

Several advocates and human rights groups have voiced opposition to the procedure. They might not realize that the DNA collection basically will put the detention of immigrants in line with the treatment of most other detainees — and many Americans who have committed no crime at all.

Many people who are booked into American jails and prisons already are subjected to the same tissue collection.

The Texas Legislature last year enacted a new law that expands the crimes for which DNA collection is automatic.

In this context many if not most Americans support the procedure in the name of collecting more information that could help link people to crimes in the future.

Criminals aren’t the only people for whom the samples are taken.

Parents who have seen hospital staff collect blood from the heels of their new babies have witnessed the process.

DNA is taken from the blood samples, which have been performed routinely since the 1960s in the name of screening for diseases, abnormalities or congenital or hereditary conditions. Some states even keep the tissue samples, saying they can help identify bodies.

Actually, DNA data collection is merely an extension, enabled by new technology, of collecting data such as fingerprints, which most people routinely offer up willingly when getting our drivers’ licenses or even cashing checks.

In some cities including Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley, residents have generally supported the installation of cameras throughout the city to record the actions of people on the streets.

It’s all in the name of security and public safety, to which few people would voice opposition.

However, it’s one of those slippery-slope issues where freedoms are eroded slowly, and that erosion is irreversible by the time people realize the extent of the loss.

Yes, the forceful harvesting of tissue from innocent immigrants is an intrusion, but it also gives us cause to reflect on just how much information, and freedom, we already have ceded to our government.