An official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Thursday that the federal government will resort to DNA testing of illegal immigrant minors as a "faster" and more reliable method of reuniting them with their parents. "The safety and security is paramount and that it is not uncommon for children to be trafficked or smuggled by those claiming to be parents,” the source told CNN. “To our knowledge this is a cheek swab and is being done to expedite parental verification and ensuring reunification with verified parents due to child welfare concerns."
The DNA sampling came following a court order that instructed the Trump administration to reunite migrant minors under the age of four years with their parents by July 10. Children between the ages of five and 17 must be reunited with their parents by July 26. It is not known for how long and where the DNA sampling has been taking place nor whether parental consent is required. Whether or not the results of the DNA sampling are being kept in a database is also unknown.
The sampling is intended to ensure that children are being surrendered to their parents instead of someone who may actually be a human trafficker.
On Thursday, HHS secretary Alex Azar said that approximately 3,000 children have been separated from their parents. Earlier, the agency cited the figure as 2,047. “We have to confirm that these are in fact their parents and we have to confirm they’re appropriate people to be having custody of these children,” Azar said on Fox News Thursday. “We’re doing DNA testing on everybody who claims to be a parent of one of our children to confirm that.” Azar argued that the court deadline was artificial and that HHS will have difficulty in determining family relationships in mere days and weeks. "We will comply even if those deadlines prevent us from conducting our standard, or even a truncated, vetting process." Advocacy groups such as the ACLU and RAICES have objected to the practice.
On Thursday, the Trump administration filed court documents to the effect that it will not meet the court-appointed deadline, and requested more time to comply. Currently, the child migrants are being held in facilities administrated by HHS while their parents are detained by the Department of Homeland Security for processing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently spoke with members of Congress about using DNA testing but still hopes for legislation regarding the identification of parents. Sessions remains concerned that adults are taking children across the border to whom they are not related and thus could be traffickers. Sessions told Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, in a recent interview:
“We know for a fact that a lot of adults taking children along are not related to them. [They] could be smugglers. They could be human traffickers. It’s a very unhealthy dangerous thing and it needs to end. We need to return to a good lawful system,” Sessions told Perkins on his broadcast.
In the United Kingdom, authorities have admitted that officials "wrongly forced immigrants to take DNA tests in order to settle their UK status," after previously claiming that the practice is "entirely voluntary," according to the Independent newspaper.