The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will start using Rapid DNA tests on some asylum seekers at the U.S.–Mexico border next week, according to a new report from CNN. The tests are intended to determine whether adults and children who are traveling together are actually family members.
The Rapid DNA tests involve a cheek swab and will be deployed at two ports of entry starting the week of May 6. Results from the test take about 90 minutes.
These new Rapid DNA tests are supposed to catch immigrants who are lying about being related, but it’s unclear how DHS can establish familial ties through DNA alone. Obviously, DNA relations aren’t the only thing that define a family.
President Donald Trump has often complained, without evidence, that asylum seekers are lying about the threats they face in their home countries. Trump has also accused asylum seekers of using children to get into the country and receive preferential treatment, despite the fact that children and adults alike face the same inhumane treatment in U.S. immigration processing centers.
“Cases of ‘fake families’ are popping up everywhere. And children are being used as pawns,” former head of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a speech on March 18 without any evidence.
“In fact, we have uncovered ‘child recycling rings’,” Nielsen continued. “Truly, child re-victimization rings, a process by which innocent children are used multiple times to help aliens gain illegal entry.”
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which handles the initial intake of asylum seekers, will make the first assessment of each case and refer family cases to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to CNN. Both CBP and ICE are part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Last year, ICE warned of a “315 percent increase in the number of cases of adults with minors fraudulently posing as ‘family units’ to gain entry” from October 2017 to February 2018. While that sounds like a concerning surge, a Washington Post analysis found that figure to be wildly misleading. The raw numbers—46 alleged fraud cases in fiscal year 2017 compared to 191 in the first five months of the 2018 fiscal year—show that just 0.61 percent of the 31,102 family units apprehended at the border during that time period were believed to have been fraudulent.
Immigration activists are concerned about the privacy implications of DNA tests, a tactic that has been floated many times over the past year. And families are sometimes torn apart by tests that may show a father is not the biological parent of a child, something that may be news to them both.
But ICE is defending its use of the Rapid DNA tests, claiming that it’s only a trial program and that they won’t be used on everyone crossing the border. At least for now.
“This is part of a larger investigative process. This is not screenings, this is not just random application of this, this is a pilot designed to assess the usefulness of this technology in an investigative process,” ICE acting Deputy Director Derek Benner told CNN.
But DHS has a bad track record when it comes to telling the truth.
Former DHS Secretary Nielsen, who was recently pushed out by President Trump, repeatedly lied to Congress about the extent of the government’s family separation policy at the border, according to lawmakers. Nielsen even insisted that there was no family separation policy, something that turned out to be false, according to the Trump regime’s own documents.
“I’m not a liar; we’ve never had a policy for family separation,” Secretary Nielsen told the House Judiciary Committee under oath on December 20, 2018.
This new DNA test program is likely to create plenty of problems even though Nielsen has left the regime. President Trump and members of his administration are, after all, the driving force behind the crackdown at the border. Trump reportedly told immigration officials to break the law during a border visit last month and even allegedly promised pardons if anyone was arrested for it.
President Trump unveiled a new set of policies on Monday designed to make it even harder for asylum seekers to find refuge in the United States. Trump wants asylum seekers to pay a fee to enter the U.S., wants them to be unable to get temporary work permits while in the country, and wants all asylum cases to have a hard deadline of 180 days. The new policies are supposed to take effect within the next 90 days.
America’s treatment of asylum seekers is likely to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Especially when new invasive technologies are being deployed against vulnerable people. But, with any luck, average Americans can continue to advocate for immigrants and make sure that they’re not abused.
Thousands of immigrant children are still separated from their parents and the only reason that there’s any effort to reunite them is because it became a front-page issue that outraged decent people. But with so many horrible things going on in the world, it’s easy for some issues to fade away. President Trump has made sure that the “immigration crisis” is still top of mind for many Americans. But those on the side of good can’t give up the fight. Not with so much at stake.