Duke University instructor recommends DNA database to track unaccompanied alien children

March 27, 2015 - 

Duke University instructor and genetics policy researcher Sara Katsanis is recommending a DNA database to keep track of unaccompanied alien children (UAC), according to a report by Forensic Magazine.

The database would be used to document and catalogue immigrants to match UAC with potential family members, or in worst-case scenarios, identify their bodies and alert family members in their native country.

In a recently published opinion-editorial piece, “Humanitarian Crisis at the Border Calls for an Unusual Tool: DNA Testing,” Katsanis wrote that there is an inherent need for such a resource at the border to protect children who are attempting to illegally enter the states, and to notify families when their children get lost, stolen or killed on their journey. “DNA is just one biometric tool, but it is a powerful one. We should be using it for humanitarian purposes to identify the dead and protect thousands of children in our trust.”

This “humanitarian crisis” occurring on U.S. borders involves some 137 children turning themselves in to immigration authorities on a daily basis, with a UAC’s body found every three days.

Katsanis argues that without a DNA database in place, genetic testing is ineffective. Keeping UAC safe is a two-fold challenge which requires protecting the children while they are in the country, as well as ensuring their safe return to guardians back home, said Katsanis.

In the event that authorities are able to apprehend a minor, and put that child through the immigration system, it can be extremely difficult to monitor the child’s whereabouts while the courts decide on what action to take.

“There’s no mechanism in place to be sure,” said Katsanis. “The challenge facing the consulate is releasing children back to people who might be exploiting them.”

Katsanis also addresses the fact that the DNA database would come certain ethical ramifications including individual privacy concerns.

“There is a real risk of abuse of power,” Katsanis said. “Specifically the secondary use of these profiles for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was collected.”

Despite these problems, she is adamant that such a DNA database should be developed and implemented, which she believes will take more than a decade to “figure out”.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.