Section 4 of the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler, and other children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act (S 557, 116th Congress) establishes guidelines for the performing of DNA testing and the handling of genetic information by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reunify families that were separated at the border. A similar version of this Act was introduced in the 115th Congress (SciPol brief available). This Act is a proposed solution to reunify families that were separated at the US-Mexico border in part due to the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance policy, which allows the DHS to detain individuals who were attempting to illegally cross the border.
The Act establishes that DNA testing could only be used to determine familial relationships after the DHS has used other methods for verification, including interviews, official documents, and observed the interactions between the adult and child. DNA testing would not be a required condition for family reunification and would only be performed if the above methods to do confirm a familial relationship. The DHS and HHS would develop additional protocols for instances in which individuals do not consent to DNA testing or the adult does not have a biological tie to the child. In cases that involve DNA testing, the DHS and HHS would be required to use the method of testing that least infringes on privacy.
This Act also sets guidelines for obtaining consent, protecting information, and explaining the conditions of a DNA match to the families who are tested. Regarding consent, the DHS and HHS would be mandated to obtain consent for any individual older than eighteen and try to obtain consent of a legal guardian for anyone younger than eighteen. Additionally, these groups would need to destroy DNA samples no later than seven days after conducting the test to protect genetic information. order to protect genetic information and to reduce misuse, the DHS, HHS and private entities may only use DNA information to reunify families. This DNA information cannot be used for other purposes like criminal immigration enforcement.
In the case of a DNA match, the DHS and HHS would reunite families as soon as possible. DNA testing cannot be used as the determining factor in concluding that there is no familial relationship in case of either an individual not consenting to a DNA test or a no match result between the adult and child.