Using DNA at the Border: Untangling Misconceptions

As the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy unfolded in Spring-Summer 2018, so too did a barrage of stories around migrant children being separated from their parents, and then mandates to re-unify them by judge-ordered deadlines. Atop the chaos were calls for DNA testing to screen migrants for trafficking, offers from genomics companies to donate tests and reagents, and the announcement of DNA as a tool to reunify families. As legislators, civil liberties advocates, geneticists, ethicists, and attorneys got involved, the media sprang into action to translate for the public the convoluted history of the use of DNA in immigration. Various tests were confused: consumer genomic services vs. commercial relationship testing services vs. forensic DNA laboratories. In this interview, Sara Katsanis and Jen Wagner discuss how they hope to inform future policy discussions through research they’ve collected regarding what media reports on using DNA at the border. They also touch on common misconceptions the public may have regarding DNA and call on the forensic community to help correct those misunderstandings.