Rep. Gooden introduces bill to expand use of biometrics to identify migrants coming across southern border

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FIRST ON FOX: Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require the Department of Homeland Security to take biometric data, including DNA, from migrants coming across the border as part of an effort to crack down on fraud and child trafficking.

The Biometric Verification for Entry and Reconfirming Identity with Forensics Act or ‘‘B–VERIFY Act” would require DHS to collect biometric information from any foreign national seeking entry into the U.S., or apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and when seeking an immigration benefit.

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“Criminal cartels are exploiting children to help migrants illegally cross our southern border, terrorists and known criminals have entered the United States, and the Biden Administration is doing nothing to stop it,” Gooden said in a statement. “Congress must act now to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect our national security and migrant children from human trafficking.” 

Additionally, the bill ensures that DHS cannot provide any benefits, and the State Dept. cannot issue a visa prior to the collection of such data. It also requires that DHS use DNA testing to confirm familial ties between migrants who come across claiming to be members of a family unit, and before an unaccompanied child is placed with a sponsor already in the country. Republicans and Border Patrol agents have expressed concern about children being trafficked in order to get unrelated adults into the U.S. by claiming they are part of a family. Single adults generally face a higher bar for entry than family units.

DHS currently collects some biometrics in certain immigration situations. DHS says that it checks biometrics of an immigration against terror watch lists, and those coming in through airports are fingerprinted. Biometrics are used to check that foreign nationals are associated with the documentation they are using to enter the U.S.

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However, a 2021 DHS Office of Inspector General report found that DHS law enforcement did not consistently obtain biometric data from aliens that it arrested. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that thousands of Brazilian children are likely to have entered the U.S. with an adult falsely claiming to be their parent between 2019 and 2021.

May 5, 2022: A migrant family sits after being processed on May 05, 2022 in Roma, Texas.  (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

May 5, 2022: A migrant family sits after being processed on May 05, 2022 in Roma, Texas.  (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Concerns about potential gaps in biometric data collection have been raised for years. The Trump administration in 2020 proposed a rule to require anyone involved in an immigration benefit, including a U.S. citizen, to have their biometrics collected. 

That rule was dropped by the Biden administration last year as part of its goal to reduce “barriers and undue burdens” in the immigration system. However, it said it would continue to collect biometrics where appropriate, including iris scans of people apprehended at the border. The Trump proposal would have enabled official to collect other biometrics including voice data and DNA.

The bill, which closely mirrors the Trump proposal, would direct Health and Human Services to conduct rigorous background checks for sponsors and notify DHS of any false familial relation claims, and provide their name and information to DHS. It would also require improvements to coordination with foreign governments. The bill would also bar any parent or guardian from additional immigration benefits if they knowingly send their child across the border illegally.

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The bill has picked up the endorsement of immigration restrictionist groups. The Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Dan Stein said it would bring “some measure of order to our border agents by empowering them to collect the biometric data of illegal aliens for the purposes of immigration enforcement – giving our immigration officials the tools they need to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking.” 

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, noted the changes the bill makes to the processing of unaccompanied children.

“By requiring DNA tests to ensure that children are actually related to those claiming to be parents and by requiring HHS to investigate potential sponsors of UACs, the B-VERIFY Act will ensure that children are not being ‘recycled’ by smugglers or placed with sponsors who will use them in the sex trade or for forced labor,” she said in a statement.

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The bill marks the latest push by Republican lawmakers to get the Biden administration to take a tougher stance on the migrant surge at the southern border, where there were more than 234,000 migrant encounters in April alone. That number is expected to rise in the months ahead.

Republicans in the House earlier this week wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urging the agency to deploy “already-procured security equipment and technologies at the southern border in order to mitigate the surge in illegal border crossings and the influx of drug and human smuggling.

Fox News’ Kelly Laco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.