As Trump Expands DNA Testing at Border to Root Out Child Trafficking, Privacy Questions Grow

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has expanded DNA testing in recent weeks to expose migrants who pose as families, raising an outcry from advocacy groups who call the measure a waste of resources and a violation of privacy. As the number of migrants arriving at the border continues to surge, the Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that human traffickers and smugglers are using children to enter the country, knowing that they have a better chance of seeking asylum. But critics say human trafficking is not a prominent issue at the border and does not justify invasive DNA testing. They also argue that not all parental relationships are rooted in biology, opening the door to complications that could harm children.Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it started using DNA testing at seven locations on the southern border. Republican Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell also introduced a bill that would expand and fund the program. Under the bill, migrants who do not consent to the test would be deported, Gooden said.Last month, 85 out of 102 DNA tests administered proved a biological relationship, CNN reported. Out of the 17 that came back negative, 16 were referred for prosecution.“The collection of DNA and DNA testing is a very invasive search. And I think that the government has not done enough to justify the use of this kind of technology on people crossing the border,” said Jennifer Lynch, surveillance litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights.Vanessa Bouché, a political scientist at Texas Christian University who researches human trafficking, said the majority of those cases prosecuted in the U.S. don’t involve the border. The vast majority of perpetrators are American citizens, she added.“It's fundamentally a violation of privacy, and it is requiring additional resources — both time and money being brought to bear on a problem that's not a crisis,” Bouché said.But conservatives argue that the government has a responsibility to protect children at the border and often cite anecdotal instances of trafficking. 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. He said 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 concerns,” Gooden said. “If you're coming across and you’re trafficking children, you don't have a right to privacy.”David Inserra, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argued that because migrants are asking for an “extraordinary thing,” it’s reasonable for the government to require a DNA test.“If they don't want to give up that information, they don't want to prove it, that's fine,” he said. “They could seek asylum in Mexico. We're after helping people who are truly being persecuted.”DNA samples taken at the border can be used as evidence and given to federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice, said ICE spokeswoman Britney Walker.“I definitely have concerns that the data collected now could be used for law enforcement in the future,” said Sara Katsanis, a genetic researcher at Duke University. She added that she is wary that the testing program could be used to amass DNA samples of migrant families for the Combined DNA Index System, a national FBI database.Homeland Security began implementing the tests in May with a rapid DNA pilot program in which agents took cheek swabs from migrants, which were processed in about 90 minutes. Migrants are required to take a DNA test if a government agent decides their official documents and verbal statements are not enough to prove a family connection. DNA samples are destroyed within 14 days unless the migrant has been referred for prosecution by then.Child activists have also lamented the practice, pointing 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. She added that some fathers may not be aware that their child is not genetically related to them. “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,” Podkul said.Border Patrol agents are not specifically trained in child welfare, Podkul said, adding that professional child specialists are more qualified to assess whether a family relationship is genuine.“It’s turned into a political issue, and the idea of what’s actually best for a child has gotten lost in it,” Podkul said.  Continue reading...

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