With the looming expiration next month of the pandemic-era Title 42 restriction on immigration into the United States along its southern border, the FBI is bracing for the fallout from an influx of border crossings.
The FBI processes DNA samples collected from migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Thursday he expects a "dramatic increase" in samples because of more border crossings.
In the first three months of fiscal 2023, the FBI handled more than 130,000 such samples, Wray said, adding that the number is expected to jump by about 30,000 a month once Title 42 is lifted.
"That gives you a sense of the pretty blistering pace that our folks are having to engage in to test all the samples," Wray said during testimony before a House appropriations panel. "Time is of the essence because in many cases these are leading to and solving sexual assaults, homicides and other serious crimes."
Since the start of the COVID-9 pandemic in early 2020, Title 42 has allowed U.S. immigration officials to expel nearly all migrants and asylum-seekers apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The controversial measure is set to expire May 11, raising concerns about a new wave of asylum-seekers arriving at the border.
The Biden administration has announced measures to stem the expected surge in border crossings, but Republicans say they're inadequate.
Under a program launched in 2020, the U.S. Border Patrol has been collecting DNA samples from migrants taken into custody at the border as well as U.S. citizens and permanent residents arrested there on federal criminal charges.
The samples feed into the FBI's DNA database, which is used by law enforcement to investigate violent crimes such as homicides and sexual assault.
Wray said the DNA samples tested by the FBI have been used in more than 220 criminal investigations, including more than 100 sexual assaults and a dozen homicides.
He said the FBI is working to boost its DNA testing capacity and asked Congress for an additional $53 million to keep pace with the expected surge in sample collections.