The Department of Homeland Security is rolling out a DNA testing program at the border designed to root out immigrants they think may be posing as families, a phenomenon data suggests occurs in only 1% of cases.
The pilot program will begin next week and run for two to three days at two border locations, agency officials told CNN and BuzzFeed News. Immigrants will be subjected to a cheek swab, the results of which will be available in an average of 90 minutes. Information from the tests will not be kept or shared by federal agencies, an Immigration and Customs official told CNN.
"This is part of a larger investigative process. This is not screenings, this is not just random application of this. This is a pilot designed to assess the usefulness of this technology in an investigative process," ICE acting Deputy Director Derek Benner told CNN. Both ICE and Customs and Border Protection will be involved in the pilot.
The number of migrants arriving at the United States’ southern border, mostly from Central American countries, has been on the rise for months. In March, feds apprehended more than 53,000 families — the highest in a single month since 2012, when CBP started keeping track, BuzzFeed News reported.
President Donald Trump spent the entirety of his candidacy and now his presidency warning of dangers from immigrants, and he's made no secret of his frustration with the situation at the border. In a recent interview with Fox News, he complained about the end of his administration’s controversial family separation policy.
"The problem is you have 10 times more people coming up with their families. It’s like Disneyland now," he said. "You know, before, you’d get separated, so people would say, 'Let’s not go up.'"
Trump administration officials have also blamed the increase in family arrivals on a court settlement agreement that mandates children be released from immigration detention centers within 20 days. Any parents who are accompanying those children must also be released.
“Smugglers and traffickers have caught on, advertising a ‘free ticket’ into America,” former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a speech in April. “As a result, the flow of families and children has become a flood. Cases of ‘fake families’ are popping up everywhere. And children are being used as pawns.”
In total, over the last year, 256,821 family units have been apprehended at the United States’ southern border, according to BuzzFeed News. About 3,100 people — or 1% — had lied about being part of a family or said someone older than 18 was a child.
Cover: In this March 12, 2019, image, 10-month-old Joshua Perla looks out from the family's tent in a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. Asylum seekers are now forced to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts. They often struggle to find legal advice and say they feel unsafe. The Trump administration introduced the new policy in January amid a surge of asylum-seeking families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador arriving at the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)