Huge increase in DNA samples being taken by CBP at the border and sent to the FBI

Border Patrol is collecting hundreds of thousands of DNA samples at the border and that's leading to a lot more solved cases by the FBI.
Published: May. 29, 2023 at 8:06 PM MST|Updated: May. 29, 2023 at 8:11 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A new government watchdog report shows a huge increase in DNA collection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That DNA goes to the FBI, and now they’re getting more hits than ever in the law enforcement database to crack unsolved crimes.

In this case, a change in directive from the Department of Justice in 2020 required Customs and Border Protection to take DNA samples from those arrested on suspicion of committing a federal crime and some detained migrants.

Does that mean the FBI automatically knows everything about you? No, there’s a lot more to it. The new report by the Government Accountability Office said collection of DNA samples at the border has more than doubled since last year alone, and so have hits in the law enforcement database used by the FBI and police departments around the country.

“It’s extremely valuable and you can use it in any case. You can use it for missing persons. You can use it for identifying victims if you have an unknown victim in some strange case,” said former FBI supervisory special agent Lance Leising.

Leising said this only strengthens the opportunity to solve crimes. The more DNA in the database, the better likelihood of a match. According to the report, in 2020, CBP collected and submitted about 5,600 DNA samples to the FBI. In 2021, they submitted more than 330,000 samples, and just last year, it was a massive number of more than 634,000. This has all led to 227 confirmed hits in the Combined DNA Index System database, which is helping with unsolved crimes.

Even with this, though, the report found not everyone who should have had their cheek swabbed actually did, mostly due to a collection kit shortage they’re now working to address. “If that law enforcement officer doesn’t do that, yeah, you could miss a huge opportunity to solve a horrific crime down the road,” said Leising.

Over the weekend, volunteers at the Welcome Center in Phoenix helped more than 250 people a day.

So, why the explosion in numbers? The increase came three years ago. Prior to 2020, the government agreed to exempt CBP from the requirement to collect DNA. That exemption was lifted in 2020, and that’s when things started to change. Leising said he knows numbers like this bring up privacy concerns, but he explained the ‘behind-the-scenes’ the public doesn’t get to see. “There are many privacy limitations on the CODIS database. Like I said, there’s not a name, not even a name, associated with your DNA sample, just numbers. Only if you understand DNA would you even be able to understand those numbers,” said Leising.

Leising said that only if there’s a match to a crime does the FBI then work with other law enforcement agencies to identify that person, but he said the ability to do that from a much wider net now is critical. “The ability to solve past and future crimes from that DNA is immense,” said Leising. As for those collection kit shortages, the FBI is using additional funding from 2023 to increase their supply and has requested even more funding for it next year.

The watchdog group did issue recommendations from their findings. They suggested the feds and CBP develop a process to collect information about why officers don’t collect DNA from some people arrested for crimes or detained for immigration violations when they should. Border Protection responded to those recommendations and said they’re going to develop a system to annotate the reason when DNA is not collected and have that ready to go in March of 2024.

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