To Reunify Families, DNA Testing Should Be the Last Resort

Last week, the Trump administration failed to satisfy a court order to reunify thousands of parents and children who were inhumanely separated at the U.S. border. In addition to the terrible and lasting trauma that the separations have already inflicted, the family reunification process has raised the specter of an additional set of civil liberties concerns: mass DNA collection and testing.

The government created chaos by taking children from their parents without thinking about how those families would later be reunified. The lack of recordkeeping and tracking has made it difficult to pair children with their parents. Our priority right now is to make sure these families are reunified as quickly as possible. But this goal can be achieved while respecting the civil liberties of these families.

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. 

The government had proposed doing DNA tests as a matter of routine on separated parents and children before reuniting family members. The ACLU position is that parents should not be required to submit to DNA testing to get back the children that were unlawfully taken from them unless there really is no other way of verifying parentage. The court agreed with us and ordered the use of DNA testing “only when necessary to verify a legitimate, good-faith concern about parentage or to meet a reunification deadline.”

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.

This deeply private information is also immutable, meaning that individuals cannot change it. Once someone’s DNA information is in a government or corporate databank, there is always the risk that it will be hacked or used for other purposes, with no ability for individuals to protect their privacy or guard against identity theft once they no longer have control over their DNA information. These concerns have been raised in the context of law enforcement collecting DNA samples from people in a coercive setting.

Moreover, not all parental relationships are biological ones. A negative DNA match should not be taken as conclusive proof that no parent-child relationship exists.

At our request, the court imposed some simple requirements on the government where it engages in DNA collection and testing:

  1. Exhaust all other means of establishing a parent-child relationship by allowing people to submit other evidence, like official documents and testimony.
  2. Only conduct DNA tests on adults who consent.
  3. Make sure samples, data, or results are not shared with other federal agencies for purposes other than family reunification.
  4. Ensure that all samples, data, and results are destroyed within seven days. This last condition is critical to ensuring that neither the government nor private contractors who assist with the testing are able to retain DNA information in a database.

These families have already undergone the heartbreaking pain of separation. The safeguards we are advocating for are the minimum necessary to ensure that we don’t compound the families’ hardships by violating their privacy rights.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

"DNA Testing Should Be the Last Resort" That's right DNA testing is expensive and I as a taxpayer do not want to pay for it. Send them back over the border without it.

Michael

My wife and I adopted our child when he was 2 days old. Would the US government now refuse to recognize us as a family? Apparently so. Would we ever see our child again? These policies are immoral and cruel.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Where did you adopt it from, the zoo?

Anonymous

Wow, Mr Racist and a zoo comment. Obviously has no clue how things work. It's works against those asking to stay for reasons that are as many as the stars in the sky. The gangs on the other side of the border are taking, not recruiting, all people that wanted an equal chance. All are exploited, Mexico does nothing. Yes, this couple would lose their child if they could not produce the proper paperwork. Most immigrants are robbed of every single item because the gangs need the paperwork to copy and use.

Dr. Timothy Leary

I do know how things work. A lot of these people from south of the border are a bunch of dumb bunnies that can't figure out how to get into the U.S. of A. legally. For example, you get some money together and contact the American authorities to get a tourist visa. Tell them you are going to see Wayne Newton in Vegas or Dollywood or whatever. The minute you get across the border you forget about Dollywood and start living the Vida Grande on an expired visa.

Anonymous

There are some fallacies in the ACLU's argument. Yes, a totality of a DNA sample contains information about health, ancestry, traits, etc., but the portion of the DNA used for a relationship test does not code for any of the above. So the DNA profile obtained for relationship testing only has information pertinent to establishing a biological relationship with the other party. So the question really is, what happens to the DNA samples after testing is complete? THAT'S the issue...not the data or results for the tests themselves. If the government is using an accredited laboratory, as I'm sure they are, then those cheek-swab samples are being destroyed after DNA is extracted solely for relationship testing; and therefore the DNA cannot be used to analyze or test for health issues, etc. Spreading ignorance about how DNA testing works is inflammatory and not helpful.

azjeanie

Has everyone lost their damn minds???!!!! These Mexicans, Guadamalans (?) and whomever the hell have traveled here, snatched a kid or two from Mexico along the way and now claim " Oh, my poor kid, don't separate us.....oh poor us!!!" THEN, the stupid LIBERALS in the US fall for this shit and blame the POTUS and administration?!!!! DNA testing is lengthy, expensive and even if they find out that PACO or ESMERELDA are not their parents WE must find their parents???? BUILD THE WALL, HIGH AND WIDE!!!! Tell me how much I and the MILLIONS of US citizens voted for TRUMP to clean up our country and keep it safe to build this beautiful wall, with a large door!!!

What about the poor Mexican parents in Mexico, wondering who kidnapped their kid????? Who has asked them how they feel?????? ACLU, I dare you to travel down south and represent those victims!!!!!! What an F-d up contrived and silly situation all due to those who want open borders and the systematic 'BROWNING OF AMERICA'. What is so wrong about protecting OUR COUNTRY???

Let the comments fly but don't be stupid. Think before you start your bitching.....

Anonymous

Timothy Leary, I refuse to call you a doctor as you don't deserve the respect that comes with that title. Azjeanie how stupid are you. Your countrymen, yourself and your President are all immigrants, or ancestors of immigrants. Some even came to your country, worked illegally and brought over her communist parents. You call her Melania Trump. Trump himself is the grandson of a German immigrant and son of a Scottish immigrant, his children are all descendants of immigrants. Except for the pure blood Native American you are all descendants of British, Irish, French, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Canadian, African etc etc etc. The most stupid people on the planet are the ones that believe in Trump and everything he stands for. People putting their lives on the line to fight to keep you safe in your beds on the promise of being discharged with honours, so they have to prove their character, are being discharged he can't order them to be dishonourably discharged as they have been of great service to your country, All so he can deport them. Every single word practically is a lie proven again and again. As the blind stupid, ignorant cowards you are, you believe in his propaganda. If he truly believes all immigrants who commit crimes and descendants of such should be deported then he should start closer to home. He has broken numerous laws and is a descendant of an immigrant. He's even going after legal ones now. His wife broke the law before her work permit came through, something she brags about on her wiki page, before you start mouthing off that everything on Wiki is a lie, with Trump's connections if it was untrue then it would be taken down. It's still there. Your ancestors brought slaves from Africa to work the land as slaves as they were too lazy to do it themselves. My god, do you know nothing of your countries history or just what the manure Trump is spreading. Your ancestors and people in the military you know fight against regimes and oppression and you are sitting back thinking it's ok to turn your blessed country into one. Your country needs to change it's name to America as your states are no longer united. Change your national anthem as you are no longer Land of The Free and Home of the Brave. You are the Land of the Brainwashed and Home of the Cowards and instead of a Bald Eagle as a symbol should change it to an ostrich with it's head buried in the sand. If anyone needs to be deported from your country to MAGA it's you two and your kind and the KKK, Nazi's sexual predators, paedophiles, sex traffickers, Homophobes, Treasonous basically anyone who is a Republican. Deported to Russia where you will feel at home, Putin loves the stupid and inane so will love you. In a way I hope you get your precious wall, and Canada builds one too or You build one to keep those north of the border out then you will have turned America into its own little Alcatraz.

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