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DNA Testing and Family Separation at the Border

The US Administration’s family separation policy was initially presented as a “zero tolerance” approach to deter illegal immigration and to encourage tenacious legislation. It was adopted across the U.S.–Mexico border from April 2018 to June 2018, however, later investigations found that the practice of family separations had begun prior to the public announcement. Under the policy, authorities separated children from parents and guardians upon entering the U.S. The adults were prosecuted, while the children were placed under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Last June, it came to light that the policy did not include measures to reunite these separated families, and in some cases did not have clear documentation to reunite the children with their parents. Following national criticism, on June 20, 2018, the President signed an executive order ending family separations at the border. Despite this order, a government report showed that over 245 additional children had been removed from their families.

On June 26, 2018, a U.S. District Judge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the family-separation policy and ordered that all families be united within 30 days. The administration reported 1,442 children had been reunited with their parents, while 711 remained in government shelters.

Nine months after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop separating parents and children at the border, families are still separated. The administration recently acknowledged that thousands more children may have been separated from their families than the figure previously reported, with officials uncertain of the exact number.

These developments, along with overflowing courts and a record number of Central American families crossing the southern border with Mexico in recent months, have prompted a planned pilot program of DNA testing to prove families’ relations.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to launch this pilot program at the border at undisclosed locations to identify and prosecute immigrants fraudulently posing as families. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will refer adults they find accusable of fraud to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations.

DHS officials claim the DNA testing will be voluntary and people will be asked to sign a consent form in their native language. The Administration reports the DNA results collected as part of the pilot program will not be stored or used in referral for criminal prosecution.

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