Homeland Security to Start DNA Testing at the Border

By Shani Saxon May 01, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to launch a DNA testing pilot program in an attempt to prosecute migrant groups “posing as families,” CNN reports.

The program, known as Rapid DNA Testing, is expected to commence next week. Its stated goal is to curb human smuggling. The testing process, according to a senior Immigration and Customs (ICE) agent who spoke to CNN, “involves a cheek swab and can, on average, provide results in about 90 minutes.” The plan is for the pilot to take place for two to three days in two locations along the southern border. 

ICE Acting Deputy Director Derek Benner also spoke to CNN and explained, “This is part of a larger investigative process. This is not screenings, this is not just random application of this, this is a pilot designed to assess the usefulness of this technology in an investigative process.”

According to DHS, there was a surge of adults traveling with minors and posing as “family units” in order to gain entry to the United States. National Border Patrol Council(CBP) President Brandon Judd insisted to CNN that the program is well-intentioned. "Rapid DNA is really the only way that we are going to positively be able to identify these children. Even if the cost is great, in order to protect these children, I think the cost is well worth it,” Judd said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), however, raised serious concerns over the legality of DNA testing in a report published in July 2018. The piece was written in response to the government’s suggestion at the time that DNA testing could be considered as a requirement before reuniting separated family members. 

Per the ACLU:


Mandatory DNA testing by the government raises significant issues of privacy and bodily intrusion, which is why the ACLU has argued that its use in the family reunification process should only be as a last resort and with stringent safeguards attached…DNA testing is extraordinarily invasive. It reveals information about our genetic makeup, including details about our ancestry, biological relationships, genetic diseases, and health. It can reveal this deeply sensitive information not only about ourselves but about our relatives — including those who haven’t been born yet.

DHS didn’t comment on whether Rapid DNA testing would or would not be used to reunite families forcibly separated at the border, but one ICE agent told CNN that the information collected in the DNA test “won’t be stored or shared.”