Mike Ramos

Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/30/2013 08:39:47 AM PST
Updated: 01/30/2013 10:28:07 PM PST

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos sent a hand-delivered letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asking that pending immigration reforms include provisions allowing immigrants’ DNA samples to be cross-checked against the FBI’s database in order to prevent criminals from obtaining U.S. citizenship.

“If they want to really be here on some form of work visa, or whatever Congress decides on a path to citizenship, I want to make sure they’re law abiding,” Ramos said.

Ramos said he believes the vast majority of illegal immigrants are otherwise law-abiding people who have entered the United States in search of work and he anticipates only a very small percentage of immigrants will be blocked from citizenship by a DNA test linking them to criminal activity.

Immigration reform ascended to the top of Washington’s agenda this week after eight senators – including 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator, and likely 2016 GOP contender Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator – on Monday asked for new immigration laws that would provide a means for illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship alongside some new enforcement procedures.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered a speech asking for immigration reforms including a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

Ramos’ proposal could end up being just one of many immigration proposals sent to Congress, but if DNA testing receives serious consideration, the district attorney’s idea could be at the center of serious debate between security concerns on one side and privacy on the other.

“What kind of precedent is this setting for DNA collection for anybody?” asked Lucero Chavez, an immigrant rights attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

News of Ramos’ idea also reached the New York City offices of the Center for Responsible Genetics before the close of business Wednesday, and the group’s president said he has serious reservations about the proposal.

“There’s a false belief that DNA is unassailable as an instrument of police use,” said center President Jeremy Gruber, an attorney and former ACLU field director.

“The truth is that there’s only limited value for DNA in these circumstances,” he continued, “and the human rights and privacy considerations for having such a database is overwhelming.”

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