DNA tests at border could verify immigrant families

DNA testing

An increase in falsified documents being used by migrants at the US–Mexico border could see the US government adopt a rapid DNA testing system. This would allow border officials to assess within 2 hours whether immigrants claiming to be in the same family are telling the truth.

Last June, the FBI approved the use of an automated system known as ANDE. This was developed by the military to process cheek swabs and other DNA. In October, it was used on human remains found after wildfires swept through Northern California. It is now under consideration by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and could be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Deputy Director of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arm, Derek Benner, said: “One of the things that we’ve seen a huge increase in and our partners in CBP [Customs and Border Protection] have seen, too, is the use of fraudulent documents”.

Part of the issue for federal law enforcement is not being able to verify familial relationship other than by paper documents. ANDE DNA testing is said to be able to verify those relationships within 2 hours, compared to the weeks it usually takes local police or federal law enforcement to get results from labs.

“Identifying an individual at the border today probably requires an officer to say, ‘I don’t know if this is their kid or not their kid’”, Annette Mattern, spokeswoman for ANDE, told the Washington Examiner. “DNA doesn’t have to make those judgments. It’s just science.”

The DNA sample is inserted into the machine and scanned. The machine stores the information, which is then cross-referenced with an external database.

“Ninety minutes later we have an identification of that person, then we can swab the relatives and we can determine if they are blood relatives”, said Mattern.

ANDE was co-developed with the military when the Pentagon needed mobile DNA processing for missions in the Middle East and elsewhere. It had to be sufficiently rugged to work in the back of a Humvee. It looks to be an obvious tool for CBP or the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles the release of unaccompanied migrant children.

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