President Trump is taking an extraordinary step to catch fraudulent families at the border and help end child trafficking.
NBC News is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security has stepped up its collection of biometric data from migrant families to include a DNA testing pilot program and the fingerprinting of children under the age of 14.
The Trump administration has said collecting such data is part of an effort to crackdown on child smuggling and migrants posing as “fake families” at the U.S. border following a recent increase of Central American asylum-seekers. But immigration and civil rights advocates said there are better ways to protect children from trafficking and raised concerns about consent and the government’s handling of such sensitive data.
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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon begin on-the-spot DNA testing of migrants apprehended at the southern border, officials said Wednesday.
The pilot program, which is expected to start as soon as the coming week, will take place at two different locations on the U.S.-Mexico border and last for several days. The so-called Rapid DNA test consists of a cheek swab that can yield results within 90 minutes. The DNA results will be used to verify whether apprehended migrants are telling the truth when they claim to be part of a family unit.
The program, officials noted, will be voluntary and the results are only used to verify familial relationships — not to prosecute immigrants who aren’t involved in smuggling.
“This is an unprecedented step forward in our investigative process and techniques,” a DHS officials said to reporters during a Wednesday conference call.
The upcoming pilot project comes as a surging number of “fraudulent families” are arriving at the U.S. southern border. Border Patrol identified more than 3,000 fake family cases in the past six months. DHS officials noted a 315 percent increase in the number of adults and children fraudulently posing as “family units” between October 2017 and February 2018.
The reason for lying, officials said, is because illegal aliens are aware of U.S. immigration laws and know they have a better chance of entering the country if they arrive as a family.
“It’s very clear that the cartel and smugglers know the weaknesses in our laws. They know that family units and unaccompanied children will be released with no consequences for their illegal entries,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said during an April visit to the border.
The DNA tests are just the latest moves by border officials to crack down on family fraud and the child smuggling rings that are fueling it.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it’s moving experts to the border to investigate child smuggling, and will be utilizing science data to “dismantle” the child trafficking rings employed by human smugglers working across Mexico and Central America.
“What we’re currently doing is surging resources from ICE’s Homeland Security investigations to the border. We’re sending human trafficking experts, document fraud experts, forensic interviewers, victim assistance specialists, because our first and primary goal is the safety and security of these children,” acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said Monday.
In addition to the DNA tests and resource allocations, Border Patrol agents are fingerprinting children 14 and younger upon apprehension — a change in previous policy as they fight child smuggling rings.