The U.S. government is performing DNA tests on children and parents in an attempt to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“It’s important to remember that information from children can at times be unreliable,” Azar said, noting that the agency is reviewing the cases of nearly 3,000 children, a number that is larger than the 2,047 he’d previously told a Senate panel still need to be reunited with their parents. Azar told reporters that the number is much larger “because a court order has required HHS to reunite all separated migrant children, even those taken from their parents before zero tolerance went into effect in early May.”
U.S. will be conducting DNA tests to match nearly 3000 migrant children in HHS custody with their parents: https://t.co/FaTeoQaEMp
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) July 5, 2018
Some children who are part of the nearly 3,000 in the agency’s custody may not qualify for reunification, Azar noted, because the children became separated from their parents on their journey to the United States, and not by Border Patrol agents.
HHS will be conducting DNA tests by taking a cheek swab of every child before matching him or her with a parent.
“The safety and security is paramount, and it is not uncommon for children to be trafficked or smuggled by those claiming to be parents,” an official with the agency said.
“To our knowledge, this is a cheek swab and is being done to expedite parental verification and ensuring reunification with verified parents due to child welfare concerns,” the official added, though they did not clarify how long the practice has been taking place, if the testing requires consent or if the DNA is stored in a database.
The move comes after a federal judge in the Southern District of California ordered that the government must reunite parents separated from children younger than 5 by July 10 and children ages 5-17 by July 26. These deadlines are “extreme,” said Azar, warning that the deadline would likely require the agency to be a bit laxer in its vetting procedures.
“We will comply even if those deadlines prevent us from conducting a standard or even a truncated vetting process,” Azar said.
The news that the government is performing DNA tests in order to reunite families marred by the humanitarian crisis which erupted in the wake of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separations policy opened up the federal government to criticism from RAICES, a nonprofit in Texas that offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees. The aid group raised concerns about potential surveillance.
This is a further demonstration of administration’s incompetence and admission of guilt. This further drives home the point we’ve been saying: They never registered parents and children properly,” RAICES communications director Jennifer K. Falcon said.
Falcon added that it’s not possible for migrant children––including some who are as young as two months old––to consent to DNA testing. RAICES said “they’d never heard of conducting DNA tests to reunite families before and they don’t,” according to CNN.
The news also alarmed many who criticized the government’s lack of preparedness to remedy the crisis.
It is scary that they have to use DNA tests to reunite families. Why wasn’t there a system In place before separating families? There was never a plan to reunite families.
DNA testing being done on separated migrant children and parents, official sayshttps://t.co/hGT9DUDemA
— KalliJo (@kallijo68) July 5, 2018
Wouldn’t it have been much cheaper/easier to write down the names of parents/children at the time of separation? I don’t trust this gov’t is going to spend huge $$$ on DNA tests for migrant children. Do you? Would you support millions be spent on this?
— el cotisuelto (@Corporate_Hobo) July 5, 2018
#DNAtesting on #separatedfamilies for reuniting. Further evdence of Admin’s incompetence & guilt & drives point home that they never registered parents & children properly. #Migrant advocates claim tests are an invasion of privacy & have lack of consent. https://t.co/Xv3obLF9NE
— dmgs (@dmgshuey) July 5, 2018
The president has not offered solutions for the crisis––but has continued tweeting.