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EU inches closer to fingerprinting child asylum seekers, US sees its own proposals

EU inches closer to fingerprinting child asylum seekers, US sees its own proposals
 

After years of debates, the European Union may finally be ready to begin collecting the biometrics of asylum seekers as young as seven years old, a proposal that has elicited criticism not just from civil rights defenders but also agencies within the EU itself.

On Tuesday, the EU Presidency announced that a final political agreement on the question of childrens’ biometrics could be achieved as soon as Thursday. On that day, lawmakers will debate remaining issues, including data-retention periods and whether to include Ukrainian refugees in the system, the EU Observer reports.

“Reaching an agreement on this file would send a much-needed signal of our ability to finalize the pact as a whole,” Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the Spanish minister for Home Affairs said on behalf of the EU Presidency.

The proposal to lower the minimum age for fingerprinting from 14 to seven is part of a reform of Eurodac (European Asylum Dactyloscopy), the EU’s biometric database for asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

The Eurodac upgrade, referred to as a recast, has been debated for almost a decade, and there has been uncertainty on where it would finally land. The latest reforms were proposed in 2020 by the European Commission, while its negotiations in the European Parliament were handed to Spanish far-right politician Jorge Buxadé.

Proponents have justified lowering of the age for biometric data collection as a response to increased risks for children. According to a risk analysis report from EU border agency Frontex, around 35,000 children were reported among irregular migrants, almost 16,000 of whom were unaccompanied minors.

Many of them are facing a high risk of child exploitation, the report notes. The true number of trafficked children is unknown as reported cases mostly involve sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced crime.

The proposal, however, has been raising concerns since 2017, including from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, UNHCR, and UNICEF. Earlier this week, dozens of civil society organizations renewed their opposition to Eurodac’s planned expansion.

Eurodac is a component of eu-LISA, the EU Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. Equipped with an Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), the database was designed to help EU member states determine responsibility for processing an application under the Dublin Regulation.

US eyes reforms to its own rules on collecting minors’ biometrics

A U.S. lawmaker is hoping to introduce bills that would mandate fingerprinting of children to prevent human trafficking.

This week, Iowa Republican Ashley Hinson introduced two bills collectively titled Preventing the Recycling of Immigrants is Necessary for Trafficking Suspension (PRINTS) Act. The Act would not only give Border Patrol agents the authority to fingerprint children but would also criminalize “child recycling” or using children multiple times to help undocumented immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border by claiming to be part of a family, according to Quad-City Times.

“Single migrants, often men, will buy these kids in order to get the look and appearance of a family unit when they’re apprehended at the border so that they can be quickly released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody,” says Hinson. “And we know that many of these are being recycled, meaning they are repeatedly used at the border.”

U.S. federal laws currently prohibit Border Patrol agents from fingerprinting children under the age of 14. In 2019, during a pilot program under then-President Donald Trump, U.S. Border Patrol agents began collecting biometrics from some migrant children aged 14 and younger. That same year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identified 600 “recycled” children.

Other backers of the PRINTS Act include Iowa Republicans Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Zach Nunn and Randy Feenstra and Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst.

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