Rapid DNA testing at U.S. border extended and criticized

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is expanding its use of rapid DNA test kits from ANDE Corp. to verify the familial relations of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border following an initial trial, CommonWealth Magazine reports.

The trial was originally planned to last three days, starting in May, but was extended for several months, and a total cost of $52,000. Members of 84 families suspected of fraud were tested during the initial three-day trial, and found 16 families had children not related to the people claimed to be their parents. The adults have now been charged with identity fraud, alien smuggling, human trafficking, and child exploitation. The kits have now been deployed to five more locations along the border.

The FBI-approved DNA tests are conducted from cheek swabs, and results are provided in 90 minutes. They are conducted when family relationships cannot be verified by ICE or DHS agents using immigrants’ paperwork.

Human Rights Watch Acting Deputy Director Grace Meng points out that parents are not always the primary caregivers to children, and says DNA testing is not the best way to deal with immigration fraud.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calls the tests “yet another iteration of family separation.”

Bode Cellmark Forensics has also been awarded a $5.2 milllion contract for rapid DNA testing by ICE, according to the EFF. The advocacy group notes that a 2017 report by the Swedish National Forensic Centre found a rapid DNA testing kit from IntegenX had a success rate of only 77 percent for a key set of samples, while the Privacy Impact Assessment from DHS and ICE says the system requires 99.5 percent accuracy. The EFF criticizes the government for not releasing data on the accuracy of the DNA biometric systems it is using.

ICE may not even have statutory authority to conduct rapid DNA testing, the EFF argues, based on Congress not passing H.R. 5203, which would have required DNA tests for families applying for visas, as well as two other similar bills.

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