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In Throwback to Trump, Marsha Blackburn Introduces Bill to Force DNA Testing on Migrants

Immigrant advocates point to statistics showing fradulent family claims were uncovered in about one half of one percent of detained migrants.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is known for her sometimes spurious anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) re-introduced the End Child Trafficking Now Act in the U.S. Senate on March 24, 2021. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images)

In a move that critics say conflates the very real problem of human trafficking with the nearly nonexistent issue of "fake families" entering the United States,  Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Wednesday led a group of Republican senators in introducing a bill that would force migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to submit to DNA testing.

"We have one case of a child who said, 'That's my dad,' but didn't know he was the stepfather. That's very different from being smuggled by a human trafficker."
—Jennifer Podkul,
Kids in Need of Defense 

Blackburn (R-Tenn.)—along with GOP Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mike Rounds (S.D.), and Thom Tillis (N.C.)—introduced the End Child Trafficking Now Act, with companion legislation led by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) introduced in the House. If passed, the bill would require Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to deport adult migrants who refuse to submit to a DNA test, and would impose prison sentences of up to 10 years for adult immigrants claiming fraudulent family ties to accompanied minors. 

It's the second time that Blackburn and Ernst have offered such a bill; their 2019 effort never made it to a vote. 

Known for her sometimes spurious anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions, Blackburn said she was moved to act by her visit to the southern border last weekend, where she claimed to have witnessed "the impact of [President] Joe Biden's policies firsthand." 

While there has been a dramatic increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the United States since the departure Biden's notoriously xenophobic predecessor, the current administration is attempting to discourage unlawful entry into the county. Last week, Biden offered this unambiguous advice to would-be border crossers: "Don't come." 

In a statement introducing the new bill, Blackburn claimed that "drug cartels and gangs are using children to falsely present themselves as family units and seek asylum at our southern border," and that "making DNA tests mandatory on anyone claiming a family relationship with a minor will send a powerful message that traffickers will be caught and aggressively prosecuted."

However, as Common Dreams columnist Abby Zimet noted the last time the issue of migrant DNA testing made headlines, although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "warned of a 315% increase over six months in the number of adults with minors 'fraudulently posing as family units to gain entry'... experts say the actual numbers are far less dramatic: the 315% figure represents an alleged 191 fraud cases, up from 46, that make up just 0.61% of the 31,102 families apprehended at the border during that period."

That didn't stop the Trump administration from launching a 2019 pilot program using Rapid DNA analysis in what it said was an effort to crack down on human smugglers fraudulently posing as relatives of trafficked minors.

The move prompted a lawsuit by the San Francisco-based digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, in which it accused DHS of deploying a "privacy-invasive technology without explaining how accurate the testing is, whether families can challenge the results, or how the program may be expanded in the future."

At the time, migrant advocates warned that the policy could result in legitimate families being separated.

"We have one case of a child who said, 'That's my dad,' but didn't know he was the stepfather," Jennifer Podkul, senior policy director at Kids in Need of Defense, told The Washington Post in May 2019. "That's very different from being smuggled by a human trafficker."

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