The Ethics of DNA Testing at the Border

46 American Journal of Law & Medicine 253 (2020)

21 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020

Date Written: July 12, 2020


From 2018 to 2020, the U.S. government dramatically expanded DNA surveillance of immigrants. The most recent expansion, finalized in March 2020, effectively requires the collection of DNA from all immigration detainees and storage of their genetic information in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) database for criminal forensic investigation. This new policy is ethically troubling because it fails to address the potential privacy harms it creates; shifts the application of DNA analysis for criminal investigation from retrospective to prospective assessment of criminality; and disparately impacts racial and ethnic minorities. In this time of extreme immigration policymaking, the expansion of DNA surveillance of immigrants should be recognized as an element of a larger project of dehumanizing immigrants and criminalizing immigration.

Although the policy applies only to immigrants, it is contributing to a transformation of norms around collection and retention of genetic information by the U.S. government generally, which can be expected to spill over to U.S. citizens. Advocates, policymakers, and scholars with expertise in genetic privacy, bioethics, or immigration must speak up to ensure that regulation of DNA collection and analysis in the immigration context is guided by the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Keywords: DNA test, forensic DNA, surveillance, privacy, CODIS, bioethics, immigration, immigration enforcement, border policy

JEL Classification: K37, K30, K10, F22

Suggested Citation

Makhlouf, Medha, The Ethics of DNA Testing at the Border (July 12, 2020). 46 American Journal of Law & Medicine 253 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Medha Makhlouf (Contact Author)

Penn State Dickinson Law ( email )

150 S College St
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

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