DNA testing at borders labeled as 'invasive and inaccurate' and an excuse to separate children from their families
The program is being piloted at various borders with the aim of reducing child trafficking, but experts say the real intent is much more malicious
The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" approach that saw federal authorities separate children from their parents or guardians with whom they had entered the US was repealed last June following national and international criticism.
While officials initially claimed around 2,700 children had been separated from their families, the administration later acknowledged that at least an additional 1,712 migrant children had been taken away at the borders. But despite receiving such widespread backlash and condemnation, it is not a policy which the administration has abandoned completely. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is piloting a rapid DNA testing program to verify the biological relationship of migrant families at the border.
The American Prospect reported that it has been put into action in numerous undisclosed locations in the month of May and will be carried out to determine if the ones being tested are part of a "family unit" — which has been defined by both the Obama and Trump administration as at least one migrant child arriving with either a biological parent or a legal guardian.
But an implication of this will once again allow for authorities to separate children from their families, especially because children arriving at the border often do so with siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, none of whom are recognized by immigration law without the proof of legal guardianship.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has insisted that the DNA testing program — which will require cheek swabs from both child and parent and will take two hours to complete — has been launched in an effort to tackle child trafficking at and around the border.
Immigration agents similarly explained that children are being "rented out" to "fake families" crossing the border and that the program will focus on only a select number of adults who they suspect are posing as parents. However, experts have questioned the validity of such a claim and say child trafficking is infrequent and this was a cover for something far more sinister.
Their claim takes more credibility when you consider that the DHS does not distinguish between children separated from non-parent relatives and those who have arrived alone at the border, which means the numbers they associate with child trafficking could be vastly inflated. Furthermore, the DHS has yet to make public a single arrest pertaining to this "child recycling" scheme. Information on the existence of such a scheme is not available either.
Speaking to MEA Worldwide (MEAWW), Conchita Cruz, co-director at the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), an organization that works to prevent wrongful deportations, explained that the program was "an invasive and inaccurate way to categorize family."
"Not every family unit is defined by a mother, father, and child born of both," she said. "It is a dangerous precedent to set, and has implications for families who have adopted, as well as many others." Cruz, like many others critical of the policy, claimed it's a guise under which the administration can continue separating families, especially considering how non-parental child separations at the border are entirely legal.
She also said that it doesn't take into consideration the hardships many of the migrant families go through before reaching US borders and that parents leaving their children with relatives did not always come down to choice.
"Often parents have been forced to leave one or more of their children with a relative: a grandparent, aunt or uncle, older sibling or family friend," she explained. "If those adults become targets of gangs and drug traffickers, they have to flee and bring the children who they were entrusted with caring for to safety."
"But the government is not thinking of a grandchild and grandmother or aunt and nephew as a family unit, nor are they recognizing that the violence in Central America and the increased migration to avoid persecution, has caused less traditional families to emerge."
And though acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said he wouldn't classify a grandmother or an aunt with a child claiming to be family as guilty of fraud, other DHS officials say those who do not come up as a direct DNA match following testing could be federally prosecuted by ICE.
Cruz feels there needs to be a change in how administrations are viewing these children and their families, especially in light of its DNA testing program. "If policies are being created to protect children, what should matter most is what is the best interest of a child," she said, "which is being released with their family members, and reuniting with family in the United States."
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