ICE to Use DNA Tests on Immigrant Families
July 9, 2019
Homeland Security officials have announced a pilot program to use rapid DNA-testing machines to verify familial relations claimed by immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the U.S. southern border. ICE claims to have discovered thousands of bogus families in the last six months, as adults claim unrelated children as their own to exploit U.S. immigration laws, which are more generous to families with children.
The trial testing equipment will be set up at various undisclosed locations along the border with the intent to prosecute for violations and deter other would-be parents from attempting the same stunt. The trail testing sites will be furnished with ANDE machines or similar equipment that use cheek swabs and other DNA collection techniques to verify biological family connections.
Once the adults involved consent to the testing, technicians will supervise as the adults voluntarily take their own swabs and then collect a sample from the child they claim as their own. The technician will then feed the individual samples into the machine and the DNA results will be available in 90 minutes. To alleviate concerns of ICE retaining the DNA records, the machines are designed to automatically destroy the DNA samples upon completion of the verification procedure.
The technology was developed as part of a Defense Department initiative in the Middle East and elsewhere for military missions that required rapid and mobile DNA testing. More recently, the machines were used in the wake of the 2018 wildfires in California to identify the remains of disaster victims.
A federal ruling in 2015 established that ICE may not hold families for more than 20 days who are traveling together. This detention limit is not long enough to accommodate immigration proceedings, thereby allowing the families to be released before their cases are decided. Detractors of the ruling say it gives incentive for immigrants to pose as families to gain entry into the country. Often, the parties do not show up for their hearings and effectively disappear inside the U.S.
Central American families are the largest demographic seeking entry at the U.S. border. More than half of those arrested at the border claimed to be traveling with a family member. Often, a child enters the U.S. with a family member other than their parent, such as grandparent or an older sibling. In these cases, the DNA test will disclose the relation, disqualifying the family for child-parent safeguards. This trial program is the first time ICE has tested immigrants’ DNA. Previously, the department had to rely on interviews and supporting documentation.
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