DHS’ proposed “biometrics” rule is an affront to our fundamental beliefs

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule on Sept. 11, 2020, that would dramatically expand the types of biometric data the Department collects on immigrants and U.S. citizens. The public is being given just 30 days to analyze and comment on a massive proposed rule — 328 standard pages — that would impact many types of U.S. immigration petitions and applications, including asylum, family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, religious worker visas and programs Congress created to support survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. 

Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., or CLINIC, said: “This proposed rule is Orwellian, and goes against our fundamental belief in the dignity of the person and the sanctity of family. It is a detailed instruction manual for overbroad government data collection and an affront to our democracy. Both immigrants and U.S. citizens will have their DNA, irises, voices, faces and other personal characteristics captured and stored in government databases, potentially forever. Even survivors of trafficking and domestic violence, including children, would have to comply or be ineligible for protection. Reading through this proposed rule is truly chilling.”  

Religious workers from all over the world are called to the United States every year to fulfill their faith's mission, and require a “petitioner” in the United States to support their entry. Under this proposed rule, religious institutions will be required to submit biometric data to be stored indefinitely by the U.S. government, serving no real purpose. Said Miguel Naranjo, director of Religious Immigration Services at CLINIC: "With this rule, the federal government would be using our resources to keep people from joining parishes, families and communities to minister to their spiritual needs. This is an unacceptable intrusion on our fundamental right to practice our faith.”  

Jill Bussey, director of Advocacy for CLINIC, added: “Essentially, this rule would require the collection and warehousing of private data for millions of new applicants each year. The administration has failed to provide any valid justification for the indefinite surveillance of immigrants and citizens in this way. The 2014 data breach at DHS affected hundreds of thousands of its own employees. We question how the government will use this new data and we cannot trust that they will keep it safe.” 

Clearly, the public needs far more than 30 days to digest this proposed rule and submit comments. Proposed federal rule changes typically come with a 60-day comment window. This rule will impact the entire U.S. immigration system and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend upon it: employers, U.S. citizens and potential immigrants. That is millions and potentially billions of people over time. Rushing this proposed rule through, without taking the time to fully consider the privacy, data management and policy ramifications, would be a grave mistake—the implications of which we can only begin to imagine.