U.S.-Mexico border wall in Arizona
Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expanding its pilot program testing the DNA of immigrant families to prove their relationship and detect so-called “fraudulent families,” according to documents posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website on Tuesday afternoon.

The program, initially launched as a two-to-three-days-long pilot at two border locations earlier this month, is called Operation Double Helix 2.0. Through the pilot, Customs and Border Protection referred families to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division for voluntary Rapid DNA testing. Cheek swabs were then taken from the family members in question and used to establish a child-parent relationship within 90 minutes. (A DHS official didn’t tell Wired what happens if the family refuses the DNA test; we’ve also reached out to DHS and ICE about this and will update if we hear back.)

In FBO documents, HSI states it is “seeking assistance with the implementation” of the program. The documents also say HSI has identified seven locations along the southern border to expand the program, though the specific locations weren’t disclosed. According to the ICE documents, the expansion will run for five months, with an opportunity for a five-month extension, and that no more than 50,000 tests are expected to be administered during the program expansion.

DNA evidence won’t be stored, the documents claim, and Rapid DNA machines will destroy DNA samples after test results are printed. Reveal immigration reporter Patrick Michels first noted the existence of the FBO documents on Twitter.

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At the time of the initial announcement of the program, ICE also announced that it was moving resources and personnel to the southern border to investigate the smuggling of children for the use of “fake families.” However, this increased concern isn’t supported by any of the available evidence on how many people have fraudulently posed as families. From Wired from earlier this month, emphasis mine:

Since April 18, CBP has referred 101 families for suspected fraud to ICE special investigators, a DHS official told reporters Wednesday. Of those, 29 were determined to be fraudulent, resulting in 45 people being referred for prosecution and 33 being accepted by prosecutors. CBP doesn’t have figures yet for April, but in the month prior, 53,077 family units were apprehended at the southern border, placing best estimates for the rate of fraud somewhere below half a percent. 

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Likewise, even figures from a larger stretch of time don’t indicate that “fraudulent families” make up any significant portion of families entering the U.S. From the Los Angeles Times last month, emphasis mine:

Brian Hastings, the Border Patrol’s chief of law enforcement operations, told reporters Tuesday that, from April 2018 to March 25 of this year, his agents had identified more than 3,100 individuals in family units making fraudulent claims, including those who represented themselves as minors but were in fact older than 18.

That’s roughly 1% of all family units apprehended at the border in that period.

It appears that ICE, regardless of the facts, is eager to expand its program to catch other “fake” families, which, again, make up somewhere between zero and one percent of all family units processed at the border. Alas, that is completely in character for an abusive organization lead by an anti-immigration administration that couldn’t care less about the truth.