The U.S. government is reportedly asking immigrant parents whose children were separated from them at the U.S.-Mexico border to foot the bill for DNA tests in order to be reunited with their children.
The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that officials told three mothers and an older sister that they must pay for the DNA tests that would verify their biological relationship to the children, according to Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter in El Paso, Texas.
The DNA tests are part of the government’s attempts to reunite nearly 3,000 children currently in U.S. custody — more than 100 of which are under the age of five — with their families, after they were separated under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting asylum-seeking parents. The government has said that DNA tests are necessary to ensure children are not wrongly placed in the hands of human traffickers and criminals.
But Greg Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The Daily Beast that the tests are a “delay tactic” to pressure parents to accept deportation. As the director of Annunciation House, Ruben Garcia, noted, parentage can be proven in other ways, including through government documents that the Customs and Border Patrol or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies take from immigrants once they cross the border.
Immigration advocates have also voiced concerns about the DNA tests, citing the lack of consent on the part of young children to have their cheeks swabbed, as well as fear about what the government may do with such sensitive human data.
The tests are done by a private contractor hired by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which the agency has not named, and can cost hundreds of dollars. But the ORR has denied claims that parents are responsible for the cost, telling The Daily Beast that it “provides DNA testing at no cost to verify parentage.”
The Trump administration recently asked for an extension of court-mandated reunification deadlines, stating last week that it had only managed to reunite two children with their parents. The court declined to issue an extension. The administration missed its July 10 deadline to reunite children under the age of five with their parents, having only managed to reunite 38, according to HHS. It has until July 27 to reunite approximately 2,900 children over the age of five.