DHS biometrics collection proposals would add more than 2 million immigrant records each year

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Details of proposed new rules for collecting and using biometrics from people for purposes related to immigration have been posted to the Federal Register by The Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The changes would entitle Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to collect photos for biometric facial recognition, eye scans, voice prints and DNA data from people, including U.S. citizens, who are applicants, petitioners, sponsors beneficiaries, or individuals “filing or associated with an immigration benefit or request.”

Biometric technology would be used for identity verification, document production, records management, and to prove family relationships under the proposal. The agency wants to add iris, palm, face, voice, and DNA to the biometric modalities it is permitted to request to carry out the above processes for immigration cases.

USCIS is seeking the changes in order to strengthen a process of background checks and document production which is outdated, according to the proposal, and unfit for determining whether individuals post national security or public safety risks. The changes would remove age restrictions in cases of benefits requests and Notice to Appear issuance. While this would mean different obligations for individuals under the age of 14 depending on the specific agency seeking biometric data, and the purpose of collection, DHS says each organization would continue to be bound by applicable regulations.

The proposal document says DHS would not be required to collect biometrics from all individuals passing through any part of the immigration system, but rather to enable the collection of biometrics from those encountered by DHS or requesting benefits unless the agency grants a waiver or exemption. Identity management in the immigration system “will enable it to transition to a person-centric model to organize and manage its records, manage unique identities, verify immigration records, and will reduce reliance on biographic data for identity management in the immigration lifecycle,” according to the proposal.

The proposal is also related to a planned implementation of continuous immigration vetting by DHS.

DHS estimates that roughly 2.17 million new biometric records for those seeking immigration benefits would be collected each year, increasing the total number of biometrics submissions from about 3.9 million to just over 6 million a year. This would raise the percentage of prospective immigrants from whom biometrics are collected from 46 percent to just over 71 percent. The annual cost associated with the changes is estimated at around $298 million, including costs associated with new fees.

Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted for 30 days from the document’s official publication date September 11, 2020.

This post was updated on Monday, September 21, 2020 at 11:58am to correct that the comment period is only 30 days, not 60.

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