Trial of rapid DNA biometrics to investigate false family claims by migrants at U.S.-Mexico border

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will conduct DNA tests in cases where border guards suspect people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are falsely claiming to be parents of children they are travelling with, the Star Tribune reports.

Homeland Security officials said the program would be very limited, and DNA tests will be voluntary. The pilot program could start as early as this week. Customs and Border Protection refers possible instances of fraud to ICE, which would then carry out the test. Parents volunteering for the test will be asked to submit to a cheek swab, and to carry out a swab of the child themselves. After that the samples will undergo a rapid DNA test, which takes approximately two hours.

Test materials will be destroyed, and not used in any criminal case, according to officials.

ICE says 101 possible instances of fraudulent family claims have been identified since April 18, and one-third were found to have misrepresented family relationships. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 possible cases have been identified, with 45 referred for prosecution. Homeland Security officials are also concerned about “child recycling,” in which children are repeatedly smuggled across the border to allow migrants to appear as families, saying such cases cannot be caught without biometric identification.

Officials also recently began collecting fingerprint biometrics from children below the age of 14 to curtail immigration fraud. CBP is also authorized to collect biometric data in the form of photographs and iris scans in certain cases, such as when a child is a suspected human trafficking victim, NBC News reports.

Advocates expressed concern over what the definition of a “false family unit” is, suggesting that many cases may be children travelling with extended family members, or who turn out to be 18 years or older. Others expressed concern about the scope of sensitive data collection.

“This is yet another example of government using generalized security interests to conduct increasingly intrusive measures into the privacy and civil rights of individuals who are seeking asylum at the border,” Stephen Kang, a detention attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC News.

The trial is expected to take place over a period of several days.

Deployments of biometrics at the border could increase under House Democrats proposal for “Smart, Effective Border Security,” which several rights groups claim is unnecessary.

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