Crude Immigrant DNA Collection and “Homeland Security USA”

By Nick Braune

The Monitor of McAllen, Texas reported this week that on January 9th the government began its new policy of collecting DNA samples from every undocumented immigrant detained on civil violations. The ACLU and other groups have protested.

The collecting of DNA is part of the criminalization of immigration violations begun by the Bush administration with vigorous connivance of the Democratic Congress. Being undocumented has traditionally been considered a civil violation, not criminal. But this has been changing rapidly with the Border Patrol’s Operation Streamline and with ICE’s offensive lately, typified by the immigration raid in the early summer of 2008 in Postville, Iowa, where three hundred undocumented workers in a meat packing plant were arrested and then were forced to plea bargain themselves, shackled in front of judges, to five months in prison before being deported.

As The Monitor reports, “In the last fiscal year alone, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against more than 25,000 immigrants in the judicial district from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley.” That number does not include, of course, the thousands who were deported without being given criminal charges.

Although collecting DNA from the undocumented may seem somewhat innocuous in itself, it is another part of the criminalization drift, a drift which slaps at international law and basic moral principles. (An interesting read: Google “Strangers No Longer,” a well-argued document written by the U.S. and Mexican Catholic Bishops Conference in 2003.)

The drift is insidious. Not only are immigrants The Other (an impersonal economic problem to be handled, an obstacle in our lives to be overcome) but The Other is also increasingly labeled as dangerous and evil. Those immigrant workers are not just poor and out of compliance, they are latent criminals!…Get a cheek swab from all of them, get their DNA results into our databases, just in case they rape someone or in case they leave some personal trail behind in some violent, bloody robbery next year…you never know.

Provisions for the expanded DNA collection were quietly tucked into the 2006 update to the Violence Against Women Act, which is sadly ironic because the criminalization of undocumented immigration is taking a growing toll on women and families generally.

A second bit of news. A McAllen peace and justice group last week discussed the new ABC prime time series, Homeland Security USA. The group’s members who had seen the series, described it as a slick propaganda vehicle with dangerous undercurrents. It is a Good Guys versus Bad Guys show, with a “reality TV” flavor, glorifying the Border Patrol — please — and ICE and their wonderful efforts against terrorists, drug traffickers and undocumented immigrant workers. The wholesome (8 p.m. EST) Tuesday night program, virtually produced by Homeland Security, was described as blatant, straight, governmental indoctrination.

A television review by Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times has this criticism: “Viewers long ago became inured to the blurring of news and entertainment. Shows like ‘Cops’ on Fox, which follows real-life deputies and police officers as they raid crack dens, break up domestic disputes and chase speeding cars, have proven appeal. Yet there is something more than usually troubling about a network series that purports to cover the full canvas of homeland security and that is made with the assistance — and censorship (they call it ‘prescreening’) — of the Department of Homeland Security. The result is an exclusive, inside look at a recruitment video.”

“The series…is paced like a reality show, with the same close-ups of bewildered subjects and repetitions of cliffhanger moments. It is framed with the graphics and musical effects of procedural dramas like ‘NCIS’ and even a thriller like ‘24.’”

Although the Times finds the work a poor entertainment choice and obvious self-serving departmental ego-boosting, it does not nail the program as dangerous drumbeating against outsiders. Activists and critics of today’s evolving immigration policy, which federal law enforcement has called the “Endgame,” will be offering sterner criticisms of the ABC series.

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