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Department of Homeland Security scraps Trump-era plans to collect more biometric data from immigrants

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has scrapped plans formed under President Trump to expand the collection of biometric data — including voice prints and DNA — from anyone applying to enter the United States and their sponsors, including children.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) called Friday's decision "consistent" with an executive order issued by President Biden in February, which outlined a plan to reduce "barriers and undue burdens" in the U.S. immigration system.

First proposed in September 2020, the regulation would have dropped the age limit for biometric data collection, allowing the government to obtain personal information from minors under the age of 14. 

USCIS officers routinely mandate fingerprints, a signature, and a photograph from foreign national adults applying for immigration benefits including citizenship, temporary visas, and green cards. But the proposed rule would also have granted DHS the authority to require everyone applying for immigration benefits — including applicants' U.S. sponsors — to submit biometric data unless issued a waiver by the federal government. 

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A migrant and her daughter have their biometric data entered at the intake area in the Department of Homeland Security holding facility on March 30, 2021 in Donna, Texas. Dario Lopez-Mills / Getty Images

While the proposed rule change never took effect, the policy would have marked a colossal shift in Homeland Security's personal data collection from immigrants and US citizens alike. Plans announced last fall sparked initial constitutional concerns from immigration and privacy advocates. 

In a statement announcing the policy reversal, DHS indicated it would continue gathering biometric data "where appropriate," including iris scans of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Biden administration has been working for months to dismantle Trump-era immigration policies limiting the pathway to U.S. asylum and immigration. Immigration attorney at J&K Law Hera Javed told CBS News that while she applauds the administration's decision, "this is only one step in the right direction."

"DHS will still need to propose rules that help to end the already existing backlog and delay. While not requiring biometrics may potentially alleviate some of these delays, it is not clear that it will," Javed said. According to the immigration attorney, the approval process for work visas now takes six to nine months.

"DHS must next evaluate how they can create procedures that decrease the burden on the agency's already limited capacity and finances," Javed added. 

In a separate decision earlier this week, DHS also signaled it will suspend a requirement that some spouses of immigrants employed in the U.S. submit new fingerprints in order to renew their work visas. The mandate, first instituted by the Trump administration in 2019 for security reasons, created a backlog in visa processing that resulted in tens of thousands of immigrants losing work permits. 

In a court filing Monday night, USCIS vowed to lift the requirement for two years beginning on May 17.

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