May 20, 2019
To some people, it's just a Q-tip. But to the kids smuggled over the southern border, it could be the ticket out of a life of human trafficking. Thanks to Homeland Security's new pilot DNA program, one cheek swab is all it takes to find out which adults are gaming the system with children who aren't theirs. And this month, immigration officials have proven one thing: family separation isn't bad -- if they were never family to begin with!
Ninety minutes. That's the turnaround time for a rapid DNA test that could revolutionize border security. Just during DHS's short trial period, which only lasted a few days this month, as many as 30 percent of "parents" who consented to the test turned out to be frauds! That number, which an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official leaked to the Washington Examiner, may only be from two cities, but it's more than enough to get the Trump administration's attention.
For ICE, who had to rely on verbal or written testimonies from "family members," it's a relief to have more concrete answers than just gut feelings. Until now, Homeland Security personnel have had no way of knowing if the "parents" they've caught on the border with children were actually telling the truth. In the last couple of years alone, there's been a 315 percent spike in adults claiming kids who were not theirs. As Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic expert, pointed out on "Washington Watch," most of these illegals know: it's very difficult to gain access to the U.S. if you're an adult man. "But," she said, "if you're an adult man traveling with a child, you have a much better chance of being granted asylum. So what we've seen are these men coercing these children into saying that this is their father. We need to verify what's going on."
That's where testing like this comes into play. In a fraction of a day, U.S. officials are showing that they can produce conclusive evidence that would help them make better decisions for kids. "We all want the children back with parents," Trump officials have said, "but we are committed to verification for the safety and welfare of the children." After all, not even the real parents always have innocent motives. As Health and Human Services (HHS) explained to reporters last July, "We've learned that some parents have criminal histories including child abuse and child cruelty, child smuggling, narcotics crimes, robbery convictions, and even an outstanding warrant for murder."
For now, the Rapid DNA test is still under evaluation until agency leaders decide if they want to expand the technology throughout the entire agency. Given what their officials have documented since October 1 -- more than 1,000 cases of fake families -- the question of larger-scale testing seems less of an "if" then "when." Even now, the Washington Examiner points out, just the threat of DNA testing is a deterrent. "In some instances, where [U.S. agents told] the adults they would have to take a cheek swab to verify a relationship with a minor, several admitted the child was not related and did not take the DNA test."
These are the kinds of solutions that FRC was hoping for when we met with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the crisis of families on the border. When we raised the issue, he listened. "We are a generous nation on issues of immigration," he agreed. "We put more than one million people a year on the pathway to citizenship, but there are so many holes in the system that it's like Swiss cheese... and those who break in line are getting ahead and placing children at risk."
"This pilot is by no means a silver bullet for these investigations," said one Homeland Security official. But it certainly beats taking a migrant's word for it -- and risk sentencing a child to an anguishing life.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.