The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is recommending that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses better data to help determine its compliance with DNA collection requirements.
Federal law enforcement agencies must collect DNA samples from certain detained noncitizens and people who are arrested, facing criminal charges, or convicted of crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sends DNA test kits to such agencies upon request.
Within CBP, both the Office of Field Operations (OFO), which is responsible for operating U.S. ports of entry, and U.S. Border Patrol, which is responsible for securing the borders between ports of entry, have processes for collecting DNA samples from individuals they arrest or detain. From fiscal years 2020 through 2022, these agencies collected nearly 1 million DNA samples for submission to the FBI for entry into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
GAO found that CBP has experienced challenges with DNA collection kit shortages, which have resulted in some individuals in CBP custody not having their DNA collected by CBP officers and agents. Specifically, Border Patrol and OFO officials told GAO that, at times, field locations have experienced some challenges with the supply of DNA sample collection kits provided by the FBI. This has resulted in CBP’s inability to collect DNA samples from some individuals subject to DNA collection, particularly during time periods in which CBP has experienced a large number of encounters of individuals subject to arrest or detention.
However, the review found that CBP and FBI are taking steps to resolve the issue and ensure there is a sufficient supply of kits in the future. For example, the FBI is using additional funding received in fiscal year 2023 to increase its supply of DNA sample collection kits and has requested additional funding for this purpose in fiscal year 2024, according to officials. CBP officials have also taken steps to share more information with the FBI regarding the numbers of individuals the agency encounters to better prepare the FBI to provide the kits.
While OFO and Border Patrol collect data on DNA collections across their field locations, GAO found they are not systematically collecting data on the reasons why they do not obtain DNA from some individuals arrested or detained under CBP’s immigration enforcement authority. In fiscal year 2022, of the nearly 1.7 million individuals OFO and Border Patrol encountered under their immigration enforcement authority, the agencies collected DNA samples from about 634,000 of these individuals, or 37 percent.
While some of the individuals encountered by OFO and Border Patrol were not subject to DNA collection requirements, GAO found that OFO and Border Patrol cannot readily determine the extent to which these non-collections were appropriate and valid because they do not systematically collect data on the reasons for the non-collections. Such data would allow OFO and Border Patrol to determine the extent that they are complying with CBP’s directive, as well as with the Department of Justice’s regulation implementing the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005.
GAO recommends that OFO and Border Patrol develop and implement a mechanism to systematically collect data on the reasons why officers and agents are not collecting DNA from individuals arrested on federal criminal charges or certain noncitizens detained for immigration violations. DHS concurred with the recommendations and aims to meet them by October 2024.