As the number of migrants arriving at the border continues to surge, DNA testing is being expanded in an attempt to root our child trafficking. The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that human traffickers and smugglers are using children to enter the USA, knowing that they have a better chance of seeking asylum if they pose as families.
Homeland Security began implementing DNA tests in May with a rapid DNA pilot program in which agents took cheek swabs from migrants that could be processed in about 90 minutes. DNA testing was initially introduced at seven locations on the southern border. Republican Lance Gooden introduced a bill that would expand and fund the program. Under the bill, migrants who do not consent to the test would be deported, said Gooden.
Advocacy groups are calling the measure a waste of resources and a violation of privacy. According to them, human trafficking is not a prominent issue at the border and does not justify invasive DNA testing. They also argue that not all familial relationships are rooted in biology.
Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified in Congress last month that a 51-year-old man bought a child in Guatemala for $80. The man admitted to purchasing the child after an agent confronted him with a DNA test.
“The safety of children coming across the border trumps any privacy concern”, Gooden said. “If you’re coming across and you’re trafficking children, you don’t have a right to privacy.”
DNA testing proves biological relationship in over 80% of cases
Migrants are required to take a DNA test if a government agent decides their official documents and verbal statements are insufficient to prove a family connection. The DNA samples are destroyed within 14 days unless the migrant has been referred for prosecution.
According to CNN, 85 out of 102 DNA tests administered last month proved a biological relationship. Out of the 17 that came back negative, 16 were referred for prosecution.
Child activists are voicing their concerns and point to the fact that not all parents are genetically related to their children. Some minors travel with stepparents or other guardians, said Jennifer Podkul, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that represents unaccompanied migrant children in deportation proceedings. In addition, some fathers may not be aware that their child is not genetically related to them, she said.
“It’s much better to make sure you have a trained child welfare professional who knows how to screen children, who knows how to look for signs of abuse or signs of fear” said Podkul.
Border Patrol agents are not specifically trained in child welfare. Professional child specialists are more qualified to assess whether a family relationship is genuine, she said.
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