Trump Administration To Start DNA Testing Families At The Border

The Washington Post / Getty

Two border locations will begin testing immigrants’ DNA in order to discourage groups from lying about being blood relatives so that they aren’t separated

File this under expensive, useless, inhumane, and insulting ideas: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that two of its border locations will begin testing incoming immigrants’ DNA as part of a pilot program. The DNA sample will be used to determine which members of a group are family, and which can be separated from minors in the group.

The program, which is scheduled to run for a few days, involves swabbing each person’s mouth for skin cells followed by a rapid DNA test that takes about 90 minutes. If a group’s DNA matches, the family can stay together instead of being separated into different camps.

Why do we need the program? As immigrants continue to enter the country from the south in large numbers (most of them women and children fleeing dangerous conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), DHS fears that traffickers will use children who aren’t their own in order to skirt long-term detention and deportation.

“Cases of ‘fake families’ are popping up everywhere. And children are being used as pawns,” former Homeland Secretary Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last month.

But is it a real problem? DHS stated that there’s been a 300 percent increase in people posing as families between 2017 and 2018, but Huff Post reports that although the organization says they’ve identified about 3,100 people who lied about being part of a family or claimed someone who was over 18 years old was a child, it’s a problem that only involves a mere one percent of the 256,821 families.

There’s cause to wonder whether expensive and time-consuming DNA testing should be put to work to stop an issue that’s only affecting one percent of cases, and if that money and time shouldn’t be spent elsewhere.

There’s also cause to wonder if this isn’t simply President Trump going to extreme lengths to stop immigrants from seeking asylum. It is, in a way, a small loophole to the new rule that families can’t be held in detention centers for more than 20 days, and that kids can’t be separated from their caregivers. It’s also a way for Trump to start separating kids from adults whenever possible, because he thinks that gives other families an incentive to stay away from our border.

“The problem is you have ten times more people coming up with their families,” Trump said in a FOX interview. “It’s like Disneyland now. You know, before you’d get separated so people would say let’s not go up. Now you don’t get separated, so it turned out to be a disincentive.”

The policy states that information from the DNA tests won’t be used elsewhere – but it’s unclear what will happen to this information once it’s processed.

The policy also doesn’t cover what happens to families who aren’t blood related – like kids who’ve been adopted, either officially or unofficially, by other people. And this is probably a somewhat common situation for families in places like Guatemala, which suffer from extreme violence, poverty, and upheaval.

Once again, it seems like the Trump Administration wants to tell us who’s a family and who isn’t – and that they’re once again wasting time and money to solve an issue in exactly the wrong way, while spreading unnecessary fear about immigrants seeking asylum.