Say No to DHS Surveillance of Immigrants and U.S. Citizens!

The Trump administration proposed a rule to dramatically expand its surveillance of immigrants in the United States, as well as U.S. citizens who sponsor family members or employees for visas and lawful permanent residency, or green cards. They have outlined a massive system to collect biometric data from millions of people in the United States — including DNA, voices, iris and face scans as well as other personal characteristics — storing it indefinitely in government databases for purposes that can only be guessed at right now.

For such a drastic invasion of privacy and personal autonomy, the government gave the public only 30 days to comment. The standard comment period is 60 days.

CLINIC, partners and individuals across the country submitted comments in opposition to this Orwellian rule through CLINIC’s comment portal. The interfaith community also raised their voices. The indefinite and targeted state surveillance that Muslim and Black communities in the U.S. have experienced on a day-to-day basis is real and must be rejected — not expanded to more people in the United States.

Here are some of the dangerous consequences of this proposed rule.

  • The proposal would harm both immigrants and U.S. citizens, subjecting them to ongoing collection of their DNA, voices, iris and face scans, and more. It is invasive, expansive and offends our personal privacy, a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
  • The system would pad the pockets of big data and tech companies and grow the police state, at a time when more Americans are questioning the unfettered authority given to law enforcement in the United States.
  • The plan would be extremely costly. The main agency charged with implementing it, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, claims to be nearly bankrupt and is threatening to furlough 13,400 government employees.
  • There are no exceptions to data collection for vulnerable groups. Asylum seekers fleeing oppressive governments and survivors of abuse could be traumatized once again by data collection and surveillance. Children and survivors of trafficking are also not excluded. In the event of a data breach, personal information about victims could get into their abusers’ hands, putting lives at risk.
  • It furthers the government’s strategy of falsely labeling immigrant children as gang members to achieve their swift deportation, without due process.
  • The administration has provided no valid justification for this rule. In fact, the U.S. government has proven unable to safeguard personal data many times.

Said Rebecca Scholtz, senior attorney with CLINIC’s Defending Vulnerable Populations Program: “This proposed rule is the opposite of ‘welcoming the stranger,’ a core tenet of interfaith teachings. It denies the inherent human dignity of all people, immigrants and citizens alike, forcing them to hand over private, personal data to the U.S. government, for indefinite storage and unknown use.”

Miguel Naranjo, director of Religious Immigration Services at CLINIC, said: “Requiring religious employers, in most cases U.S. citizens, to submit biometric data in order to sponsor a religious worker is unnecessary, and will deter many organizations from doing so. This will deprive communities of essential support and ministry.”

Also, bureaucratic errors and mismanagement with such a massive amount of data could lead to a rise in the separation of families, unjust detention and more. As the use of technology expands across our country and the world, we should proceed responsibly and ensure that human rights and civil liberties are prioritized.

“With the Department of Homeland Security already conducting surveillance and arresting people who stand up for Black lives, we know that the federal police state is already a reality. Political dissent is supposed to be protected in the United States, but these days our government looks more like an autocratic regime than the free country we claim to be,” said Jill Bussey, director of Advocacy at CLINIC. “Putting more private information into a massive Department of Homeland Security black hole is incredibly dangerous. Once that data is given, it cannot be taken back. This rule should never be implemented.”