(CNN) — Whether this practice is beneficial or unethical depends on who you ask.
DNA tests are being performed on children and parents in an attempt to reunite migrant families separated at the US border, said a federal official with knowledge of the reunifications.
“The safety and security is paramount, and it is not uncommon for children to be trafficked or smuggled by those claiming to be parents,” the official said.
“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 source could not discuss how long the practice has been taking place, if the testing requires consent or if the DNA is stored in a database.
The Associated Press cited Health and Human Services officials as saying the department is using DNA testing as a backup to confirm the parent-child link and speed up the process.
Aid group worries about possible surveillance
RAICES, a nonprofit in Texas that offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees, called the move deplorable because collecting such sensitive data would allow the government to conduct surveillance on the children “for the rest of their lives.”
“This is a further demonstration of administration’s incompetence and admission of guilt. This further drives home the point we’ve been saying: They never registered parents and children properly,” RAICES communications director Jennifer K. Falcon said.
Falcon also said it’s not possible the migrant children — some as young as two months old — are giving their consent to DNA testing.
The organization said they’d never heard of conducting DNA tests to reunite families before and they don’t support the move.
Blood tests have been reported, attorney says
Attorneys representing migrant families said some of their clients have been approached by people who identified themselves as health officials or were wearing military-style clothing.
“I was told (by my clients) that ‘men in blue military uniforms’ were performing and ordering the blood and saliva tests,” said Sophia Gregg, an immigration lawyer at Legal Aid Justice.
Gregg said she’s learned that those people work with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Some are also conducting lengthy interviews with parents about their children, asking questions such as where their children were born and whether they have distinguishing marks, another attorney told CNN.
Doctor says lack of information might make DNA testing necessary
Dr. Alicia Hart, an emergency physician treating children in detention centers, said she’s witnessed not just heartbreaking cases of child trauma, but also a dire lack of information for many of the children.
One child who was brought to her with a psychiatric illness “was sent with someone who told me he was a ‘clinician,'” Hart said.
“He was very, very evasive any time I would ask him questions (about the child), and he would frequently answer, ‘You don’t need to know that.'”
And because of the lack of information on detained children, DNA testing might be necessary, Hart said.
“Unfortunately, records haven’t been kept,” she said. “DNA’s probably going to be our only way of doing that and ensuring these kids get back to a safe home.”
Deadlines loom for reuniting families
The Trump administration faces continued scrutiny over what will happen to the undocumented families separated as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
The policy, which called for all migrants who cross the border illegally to face prosecution, meant more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents in two months. Many were scattered in facilities across the country by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
After widespread criticism over family separations, the Trump administration laid out a plan to reunite the parents and children. But it’s still not clear how many families have been reunited, since officials have refused to release new numbers for more than a week.
Now, the Trump administration must meet several deadlines, laid out by a federal judge, to reunite the families:
By Friday: Officials must make sure every separated parent has a way to contact his or her child.
By next Tuesday: Separated children under age 5 must be reunited with their parents.
By July 26: All children must be reunited with their parents.
(The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)