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Washington • Immigrants in the United States illegally who would seek permanent residency under an immigration reform bill before Congress would have to submit a DNA sample to be kept on file if Sen. Orrin Hatch has his way.
Hatch has submitted 24 amendments to the immigration package that he says will improve the bill, including one that would require the DNA test to be checked against criminal databases for anyone over the age of 18 who wants to gain provisional resident status.
"Inclusion of a DNA profile as part of any background check will ensure that decisions regarding residency status are made with fullest search of criminal activity and identification available," Hatch's office said in a memo describing his amendments.
The Senate reform bill, drafted by a bipartisan group of senators, would create a decade-or-longer pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally as long as they pass through a series of hurdles and America's borders are strengthened.
The bill's first stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its members have submitted hundreds of changes they'd like to see in the bill. Hatch's proposal would be the first to require DNA testing as part of the process to gain legal status, the initial step in seeking full citizenship.
The amendment quickly brought concerns from advocates for immigrants.
"It's a big difference to go from name and birth certificate to fingerprints and DNA," says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "It's a slope that we have to be really careful with before we walk down it. ... To have a DNA database for people who the only thing they want to do is become Americans, seems a big step."
Gregory Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, notes that the current bill already requires biographical information, including photos and fingerprints, for those applying for permanent status and Hatch's amendment would add significant burden and cost to the process.
"Why would they want to add this additional step when all those things would already be done," Chen said.
The amendments Tuesday came as GOP senators stressed in a hearing that the landmark immigration bill is doomed to fail if border-security provisions aren't strengthened.
"If in fact the American people can't trust that the border is controlled, you're never going to be able to pass this bill," declared Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The amendment process could play a big role if the measure survives. Beyond Hatch's amendment, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has introduced a change to allow gay permanent residents to sponsor their partners, a potential poison pill for Republicans.
Border security appeared to be the latest sticking point.
"If we're going to get immigration reform through, if you're going to get it through the House, we're going to have to do a whole lot more on what is the definition of a controlled border than what is in this bill," Coburn said.
Hatch's DNA amendment would allow an immigrant-turned-permanent resident to file to erase their DNA files after six years if not arrested or convicted of a crime.
Hatch's other amendments also include:
• Requiring immigrants to prove that they have paid all taxes owed during their time in America;
• Making it a crime for any immigrant to use an identity other than his or her own;
• Requiring payment of $500 more than currently for a total of $1,000 for a green card, with the extra money going toward states' efforts to increase science and engineering education.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.