The Department of Homeland Security will start a DNA testing pilot program the following week to help identify and eventually prosecute individuals posing as families in an effort to target human smuggling. It’s going to involve a cheek swab and can, on average, provide results in about 90 minutes, a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.
The testing will begin with a pilot program as early as next week. The efforts are aimed at stopping adult migrants from fraudulently claiming to be parents, possibly to avoid long-term detention.
On a call with reporters, officials said testing will be voluntary and the samples will only be used to determine family relationships, not to prosecute.
“This is an unprecedented step forward in our investigative process and techniques,”one DHS official said Wednesday.
DHS has repeatedly warned that children are being exploited by traffickers to skirt the nation’s immigration laws. Currently, the government can’t hold migrant children in detention for more than 20 days, often leading to the release of families — or groups posing as families — until their immigration court hearing, a practice President Donald Trump has derided as “catch and release.”
The information collected in the DNA test will not be stored or shared, an ICE official said.
From October 2018 to March of this year, authorities identified more than 1,000 cases of fraudulent families who were stopped at the southern border. In the month of April, 100 suspected families were investigated by Homeland Security officers who found evidence of fraud in 29 of those cases.
The announcement comes as DHS official also consider options for increasing family detention times. A 2015 court decision requires families with young children to be released after 20 days.
Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would redirect investigators to the southern border in places that have been overwhelmed by the recent influx of migrant families.
“By fraudulently entering as a family unit or unaccompanied minor, illegal aliens can exploit loopholes in immigration laws to enter the U.S. and avoid detention,”ICE said in a statement Monday.