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USA orders DNA tests to reunite separated migrant families

9 July 2018
Appeared in BioNews 957

Over 2500 migrant children, who were separated from their parents at the US-Mexican border, will be genetically tested to reunite them with their families. 

The US government decision follows a court order that all the families must be reunited by 26 July, with children younger than five years to be returned to their parents by 10 July. Typically kinship is verified using documents such as birth certificates, but US authorities have been accused of failing to properly register parents and children before separating them.

'Unfortunately, records haven't been kept,' Dr Alicia Hart, an emergency physician treating some of the detained children told CNN. 'DNA is probably going to be our only way of […] ensuring these kids get back to a safe home.'

According to US officials, DNA testing will be carried out once an adult claims a relationship to a child. Health personnel will then collect cheek swabs from the children and supposed parents and send it to a laboratory for DNA sequencing to verify the relationship. 

However, concerns have been raised regarding privacy and data protection (see BioNews 955). Genetic testing usually requires consent, which young children – in some cases only two months old – are not able to give. Additionally, as it is unclear what will happen with the genetic information after the families have been reunited, there are concerns that even consent given by the adults is not fully informed.  

Jennifer Falcon of RAICES, a Texas-based rights group representing migrant families, told the Telegraph: 'It's deplorable they are using the guise of reuniting children to collect even more sensitive data about very young children. This would allow the government to conduct surveillance on these children for the rest of their lives.'

During the two months in which the 'zero tolerance' immigration policy issued by the Trump administration was in place, over 2500 children have been separated from their parents and placed in facilities across the USA. CNN reports 2047 children to be in care at the Office of Refugee Resettlement across 16 US states, with no information on the remaining 34 states.

DNA tests are in the works for separated migrant children and parents
CNN Edition |  5 July 2018
DNA tests for separated migrant children
The Times |  6 July 2018
DNA Tests on Separated Migrant Children Raise Privacy Issues
Bloomberg |  5 July 2018
US officials resort to DNA tests to reunite children with migrant parents
The Telegraph |  6 July 2018
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