Trump to Require DNA Testing of All Asylum Seekers
In October 2019, the Trump administration announced plans to begin systematically conducting DNA testing on asylum seekers attempting to cross the U.S. border without valid documentation. According to government officials, taking a “genetic fingerprint” of all incoming individuals would help verify family reunification claims, keep track of who is entering the country, and cut down on migrant-related crimes.
As recently as the summer of 2019, the government used DNA testing as the best means possible to verify paternity and maternity during the reunification of families separated at the border. Opponents to the new policy argue that forced DNA tests go against the basic rights of privacy and autonomy and that determined asylum seekers will not let a DNA test stop them from entering the country.
DNA Testing Helps Reunite Families Separated at the Border
Roughly 3,000 children were separated from their families between October 2018 and May 2019, per a Trump administration order. The policy directed officials to charge asylum seekers caught illegally crossing the border as federal criminals, requiring any children in their custody to be taken into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). Reports began to surface during the summer of 2019 of children being held in camps and cages at the border after being taken away from their imprisoned parents.
President Trump issued an executive order to end the controversial policy in June 2019 that included a provision requiring all remaining children in custody be returned to their parents by the end of July. With little coordination between the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies detaining the parents and the HHS caring for the children, officials quickly realized they could not verify family members or even locate some children within the required time frame using traditional methods. In fact, hundreds of children seemed to have disappeared into the system.
According to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, DNA testing to confirm family ties became the only viable option to comply with the new order. In a declaration by the HSS, official Jonathan White said:
DNA testing is the method of parental verification most likely to protect children from harm given the compressed time frame imposed by the court’s order.
HSS used Rapid DNA Tests with samples taken from the children via saliva swabs to confirm paternity and maternity claims by detained immigrants. These tests take less than two hours to produce results.
Advocates See Family Reunification Benefits in New DNA Testing Policy
Proponents of the law expect it to help clarify family reunification cases and visa applications. DNA testing has already been used to quickly verify familial ties to reunite children separated from their parents at the border and is routinely required on some applications for refugee status. Getting a visa through family reunification is the most common way of gaining legal entry into the U.S., a fact President Trump has lamented on multiple occasions. According to advocates, this new policy will make it much easier to sort out familial lineage and prevent fraudulent reunification applications from being successful. Officials expect to continue using DNA testing to verify relations for new families arriving at the border, even if no separation occurs.
Opponents Find New DNA Testing Law Invasive and Futile
Opponents of the new law cite several issues with the policy. Experts have found that criminality among immigrants is lower than that of the native-born population. This is true in terms of incarceration rates and local crime rates, exposing the Trump administration’s assertion that illegal immigrants are too often criminals as a falsehood. This situation has led experts like the ACLU’s senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah to state:
This proposed change in policy is extraordinary in its breadth and transparent with its xenophobic goals.
Others note that, while forcing DNA testing goes against basic human rights agreed upon across the world, it is unlikely to significantly affect the number of migrants arriving at the border. As civil rights lawyer Henry Sias puts it:
It’s hard for me to believe that a woman who is on a journey of 1,000 miles in broken flip-flops with a two-year-old on her hip, doing everything she can and sacrificing everything … is going to be deterred by DNA collection.
Immigrants Most Affected by the New DNA Testing Legislation
The Trump administration’s new policy is directed at asylum seekers and other migrants who attempt to enter the U.S. without already possessing an entry visa or residency card. The policy does not require legal immigrants or permanent residents to undergo DNA testing at the border. Children under the age of 14 are also exempt, regardless of their status when entering the country.
However, DOJ representatives did not respond to inquiries seeking to clarify this policy, leaving many unanswered questions. Given the recent and often shocking treatment of minors at the border, people are wondering whether unaccompanied children without any form of ID to prove their age would be required to take a DNA test.