Biometrics and Immigration Policy (2020-2021)


In 2019, President Trump declared that the “current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” In response, the administration has been transforming immigration policies to prioritize national security and reduce fraud. Much of this enhanced securitization involves novel uses of technologies to surveil people entering the country.

U.S. authorities have used biometric data in immigration processing for over a decade. Proponents argue that these technologies prevent fraud and protect U.S. security and economic interests. Critics counter that biometric surveillance disproportionately penalizes vulnerable migrant groups. The ensuing debate over how to best balance national security alongside migrants’' rights to autonomy and privacy is among the most polarizing political flashpoints today.

Project Description

This project team will examine how the U.S. collects and uses immigrants’ biometric data as well as the ethical tensions underlying the imperative to balance national security alongside the rights of migrants. Team members will conduct a detailed gap analysis to identify current uses of biometrics in migrant surveillance; explore how migrants’ biometric information is gathered in the U.S.; assess proposed plans for additional biometric data collection, including which policies govern the collection and use of this data; and investigate the potential misuse of such data by identifying case studies of (mis)use in the U.S. and other countries. The team’s findings will inform policy recommendations for best practices for biometric data collection, storage and use in ways that aim to balance national security interests alongside migrants’ rights. Findings will also be communicated to the public for advocacy purposes.

This project builds on ongoing NIH-funded research on biometrics and immigration in the Farahany Science, Law and Policy Lab.

Anticipated Outputs

Biometrics governance gap map; real-world case studies exploring ethical tensions and areas for policy intervention; public-facing policy manuscript; science policy op-ed


Spring 2020 – Fall 2020

  • Spring 2020: Begin gap analysis; draft written summary of research; submit summary to a conference and/or science policy communication media
  • Summer 2020: Develop case study based on gap analysis
  • Fall 2020: Draft policy recommendation documents; develop conference presentation or manuscript and science communication media

This Team in the News

Immigration Projects Explore Biometrics, Mental Health and Deportation Issues

Duke Law Faculty, Students Tackling Diverse Interdisciplinary Research Projects through Bass Connections


Team Leaders

  • Nita Farahany, Duke Law|Arts & Sciences-Philosophy
  • Dylan Stonecipher, Science & Society
  • Meredith Van Natta, Science & Society

/graduate Team Members

  • Evan Katz, Masters of Public Policy
  • Reg Ledesma, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Sydney Ballard
  • Paul Chen, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Savannah Herbek, Biology (BS), Spanish (AB2)
  • Rishabh Jain
  • Ashil Jhaveri, Political Science (AB), Computer Science (BS2)
  • Nicole Kastelic, Biology (AB), Philosophy (AB2)
  • Micalyn Struble
  • Vineel Vanam
  • Niharika Vattikonda, Interdepartmental Major
  • Desta Yosief

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • David Hoffman, Sanford School of Public Policy