Is Collecting DNA From Immigrant Children Really a Good Idea?

Over the last few months, a Trump administration crackdown separated just under 3,000 immigrant children from their families. Now a judge has ordered these families back together.

By July 10, all detained children under age five must be reunited with their families. Officials say they’re performing DNA tests on kids and parents to meet such deadlines and to prevent child trafficking.

But advocates worry that collecting DNA is a strategy to keep tabs on these children for the “rest of their lives.” Others claim that the move shows the administration’s failure to maintain accurate records about each child’s whereabouts.

“It’s deplorable they are using the guise of reuniting children to collect even more sensitive data about very young children,” says Jennifer Falcon, spokeswoman for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, to TIME. “This would allow the government to conduct surveillance on these children for the rest of their lives.”

As Maya Rhodan reports, usually people hoping to claim unaccompanied minors prove their identities by submitting an application and passing a background check. But scrambling officials insist that DNA tests are faster than sifting through such documents. Many of the children have reportedly already received cheek swabs and blood tests.

Given that immigrants have long been subject to surveillance, activists have good reason to be wary of these recent developments.

As history professor Paul A. Kramer notes in The New York Times, the U.S. government started tracking African migrants after passing its first naturalization law in 1790. Only “free white persons of good character” could become citizens.

Fast forward to 1920, when more than 10,000 people nationwide got arrested for allegedly spying and betraying the government. German Americans were particularly targeted. Reveal reports the public became incensed when they realized U.S. citizens were the majority arrested — not foreigners.

The government has continued to track some of society’s most oppressed ever since. Since 9/11, law has required that agencies collect fingerprint and other biometric data on travelers to the U.S. They’ve been trying to create a large-scale database for years, but haven’t yet succeeded.

Homeland Security has also been closely monitoring immigrants’ social media accounts since 2012.

According to a 2017 Georgetown Law School panel, groups including airlines, motor vehicles departments and law enforcement connect facial recognition information to immigration records.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested six teens in South Carolina in 2016 for deportation. National Immigration Project Associate Director Paromita Shah explained that ICE agents pushed their way into the house, fingerprinting him and his brother.

“This is not an uncommon story,” she said. Immigration enforcement often asks for biometric information from multiple state and federal databases — and frequently without a warrant or an opportunity for people to dispute their place in these databases.

Shah said these are possible violations of the Fourth Amendment‘s guarantee of freedom of unlawful search and seizure, as well as a violation of the First Amendment‘s right to peacefully assemble.

Take Action!

If you worry the Trump Administration will misuse DNA test results of immigrant children, sign this Care2 petition asking them to end the practice.

And if you want to make a difference on an issue you care about, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo Credit: Luke Harold/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Karen H
Karen H7 months ago

So, American taxpayers are footing the bill to do these DNA tests to undo a poorly thought out practice of ripping children from parents. If it takes as long to process these DNA tests as it does to process rape kits, the children will be well into their 20s by the time they're reunited with their parents--if at all.

Joan E
Joan E8 months ago

Nothing Trump does is a good idea,

Kathy G
Kathy G8 months ago

Thank you

Leo C
Leo C8 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Dot A
Dot A8 months ago

There has been little to scant examples of true compassion from the person who now resides in the Oval Office. Yes, a couple of cheap words have been tossed out to the masses for popularity sake. It seems to pacify the eager to believe. But, as soon as the DNA samples were taken, my heart took a leap, because, I, as many more, instantly thought of all the nefarious uses for such information. Labeled for life these poor destitute people. Who know just how many destructive ways such information could be used? I also wonder about those online DNA companies now advertising to get you to swab your cheeks for their files,... ? The way things are going, I think we are all right to wonder, and to wonder with a large dose of caution for everyone, especially those disenfranchised immigrants! Yes, of course, some good may come of it,- our worry is the unknown evil factor, yet to unfold,... ~

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx8 months ago

I do not think that Fuehrer TRUMPF will misuse all the data he will obtain by collecting DNA from immigrant children UNDER 5 YEARS, I AM S.U.R.E. that he will DO THAT. When all these 3,000 children are DNA tested, they automatically will be safely filed, together with that of their parents. For the rest of their lives these people will be registered in the U.S. So, even if one of them should come to the U.S. for holidays in 40 or 50 years, he will NOT be allowed to enter the country because of ... terrorists, illegal immigrants, etc.. Unbelievable how creepy and disgusting he himself and ALL his best friends are. These children and neither their parents DID COMMIT A CRIME. So, I wonder if it is effectively LEGAL that DNA is taken, especially from these little children. Haven't they not gone through enough trauma? Have they not suffered enough ? OMG, I am so happy not to be an American. I think I would flee.

Leo Custer
Leo C8 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Craig Zimmerman
Craig Zimmerman8 months ago

Through DNA testing it has already been discovered that at least some of the children were traveling with human traffickers rather then their parents. It has also been discovered that at least some of the actual parents had criminal records and the children had to be separated for their own safety.

Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago