Things That Matter

Forced DNA Testing Could Be Another Injustice That Migrants Have To Endure Under New Trump Rule

As the number of migrants at the southern border has surged in the past several months, the Trump administration has turned to increasingly draconian measures as a form of deterrence. While the separation of children from their parents and housing of migrants in overcrowded and ill-equipped holding facilities have rightfully made front-page headlines, the administration’s latest effort—to conduct Rapid DNA testing on migrant families at the border—has flown under the radar. However, this new tactic presents serious privacy concerns about the collection of biometric information on one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. today—and raises questions of where this practice could lead.

Trump wants to expand the current DNA testing program far behind what most people would say is ethical.

The Trump administration wants to enable Customs and Border Protection officials to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants in its custody.

The move will likely inspire the anger of civil liberties and immigrant advocates, who argue that the government should not draw sensitive personal information from people without being tied to a specific crime.

The official noted an ICE pilot program at the southwest border earlier this year, in which the agency took voluntary DNA tests of those they suspected of fraudulently claiming to be families. “ICE has identified dozens of cases in which children had no familial relation to the adults accompanying them. In the first operation — Operation Double Helix 1.0 — 16 out of 84 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results. And in the second — Operation Double Helix 2.0 — 79 of 522 family units were identified as fraudulent based on negative DNA results, to date,” the official said.

With Trump, it seems the cruelty is the point so where is all of this coming from?

In May 2019, CNN reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was launching a pilot program to conduct Rapid DNA testing on families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The purpose of the pilot program was to identify and prosecute individuals who were not related through a biological parent-child relationship. The pilot program was confirmed as a joint operation between ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at two locations at the border. The government contracted with ANDE, a Massachusetts-based Rapid DNA testing company, to conduct the Rapid DNA testing for the pilot program.

Later that month, ICE released a Request for Proposal seeking a contractor to expand the Rapid DNA testing program for ten months at seven locations at the U.S.-Mexico border. In mid-June, Bode Cellmark Forensics, Inc. was awarded the Rapid DNA testing expansion contract for $5.2 million.

The government started with voluntary DNA testing over a year ago.

Federal officials at the border have been performing voluntary DNA tests on migrants for more than a year in an attempt to reunited separated children with their families. But a new draft policy reveals the Trump administration wants to “expand” DNA testing by letting CBP “extract genetic material from undocumented immigrants in its custody.”

Proposed regulations are not immediately enacted and require a 60-day comment period.

Administration officials cite a statute — the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 — that allows federal agencies to collect DNA from individuals in their custody, including those who are not American. But previous DOJ regulations exempted agencies under the Department of Homeland Security — including CBP and ICE — from conducting such collection in certain circumstances.

In 2010, then–DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano narrowed the exemption, saying people who were not detained on criminal charges and those who were awaiting deportation proceedings would not have their DNA collected.

The current draft proposal would cut the exception all together — opening it up to include people who are awaiting deportation and those who are not charged with a crime, such as undocumented immigrants, to the collection.

Civil liberties groups have long challenged the expansion of DNA collection from citizens and noncitizens alike.

”DNA collection programs allow the government to obtain sensitive and private information on a person without any precursor level of suspicion and without showing that the data collected is tied to a specific crime,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a statement on federal DNA collection. Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI generally take DNA samples from arrestees.

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

Things That Matter

Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

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Despite Promises, President Biden Looks To Reopen A Child Migrant Center Facing Sexual Assault Allegations

Things That Matter

Despite Promises, President Biden Looks To Reopen A Child Migrant Center Facing Sexual Assault Allegations

Since taking office in January, President Biden has been hard at work addressing everything from the nation’s COVID vaccine program and economic response to comprehensive immigration reform. However, several of his planned changes have hit major roadblocks as federal judges (many appointed by Trump) strike down his new policies.

But despite much of his administration’s progress on issues that affect the Latino and immigration communities, the administration is seriously considering reopening one of the country’s largest child migrant detention centers.

The Biden administration looks to reopen the Homestead facility for children.

The Biden administration is facing a sharp increase of unaccompanied child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border and they’re considering reopening one of the nation’s most controversial detention centers.

The Miami Herald reported that the feds might reopen the Homestead site under the name Biscayne Influx Care Facility, an announcement that has caused outrage among advocates working towards ending the detention of children altogether.

“That place has a history of all kinds of abuse and profiting off the lock-up of children,” said Lis-Marie Alvarado, program director of the Miami-based organization American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which led the call for Homestead’s closure in 2019. A move to reopen the facility is “appalling and a slap to our faces,” she said.

The center has a troubling history of sexual assault allegations.

The facility was in the news in 2019 following shocking allegations of sexual abuse and prison-like conditions, which drew the condemnation of several Democratic candidates for president, including current Vice President Kamala Harris.

Detaining children, particularly in such dire conditions, “is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government,” she told a small crowd. Harris later described seeing “children lined up like prisoners” as heartbreaking. 

Homestead first opened as a temporary shelter in 2016 under President Barack Obama, closed the following year, and was reactivated in 2018. Between March 2018 and August 2019, it housed more than 14,300 unaccompanied minors ranging from 13 to 17 years old, including dozens who had been torn from their parents under Trump’s policy of separating families. The average length of stay in the facility was 52 days by March 2019, with some minors spending almost four times as long.

The hypocrisy of the administration is truly frustrating.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In June 2019, then-Senator Kamala Harris (and candidate for president) visited the Homestead facility demanding that it be shut down. She, along with several other Democratic lawmakers, joined a series of rallies at the center to denounce Trump’s cruel immigration policies. The facility was subsequently shut down just a month later after mounting public pressure.

But now, a year and half later, the facility might be reopened under the Biden-Harris administration.

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