From [HERE] U.S. government officials recently told four immigrant women that they must pay for DNA tests in order to be reunited with their children, according to the shelter that housed the women.
The tests are the latest ad hoc effort by the Trump administration to reunite families it had separated—in some cases because authorities took documents from adults proving they are related to their children. The tests are being administered by a private contractor on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the care and housing of children. HHS has refused to name the contractor, which may be a violation of federal law.
“None of them have the money [for the tests], so it’s going to fall back on us to push back on that,” said Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter in El Paso where the women are staying.
Three of the women are mothers of the children, Garcia said, and the fourth is attempting to reunite with her brother, a three and half-year-old boy.
Garcia said that the tests likely cost money that many immigrants entering the country with little more than the clothes on their backs don’t have. Iliana Holguin, an immigration attorney in El Paso who works with Annunciation House, said the government made some of her clients pay between $700 to $800 to prove their relationship to a relative as part of their citizenship cases.
“The government wants the parents to foot the bill for the DNA testing when they’re the ones that caused the need for DNA testing,” Holguin said. “It’s incredible.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, responsible for the DNA testing, told The Daily Beast it “provides DNA testing at no cost to verify parentage.”
ORR requires DNA testing in some cases to verify adult immigrants are related to children in ORR’s custody, before the children can be released to the adults who have either been paroled or are to be deported. The tests are often required, according Garcia, when parents’ have had their paperwork regarding their children taken by Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (CBP and ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
“When these families come in, Customs and Border Protection takes away the documents from parents and puts them in their file,” Garcia said. “In the cases where they’ve been separated from their children, ORR then says, ‘You’re going to need to provide the documents that CBP took.’”
And when the immigrants can’t, Garcia said, ORR tells parents they must take a DNA test.
It’s unclear how many immigrants have been told they’d have to pay for DNA tests. Other immigration attorneys reached by The Daily Beast said their clients had not been asked to pay for DNA tests.
Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association called the tests a “delay tactic” by a government that is “primarily interested in detaining the children and parents to put pressure on them to accept deportation before they have the opportunity to get a fair hearing on their asylum claims and other claims for relief.”
“In a specific case when there’s evidence of fraud DNA testing may be warranted, but it should not be done across the board especially when proof of familial relationship can be demonstrated in other ways,” Chen said.
Those other ways include the government documents that are taken from immigrants once they’re caught for crossing the border, verification that a simple phone call from ORR to CBP or ICE could achieve, Garcia said.
“But when I go to ORR, they say, ‘We don’t. [MORE]