News Release

Using a DNA-led framework to reunite separated migrant families

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Nearly three years after the Trump administration's "Zero Tolerance" policy went into effect, more than 445 children remain separated from their families, largely due to insufficient identifying paperwork and U.S. immigration officials' failures to plan, track and reunite separated families. In a Policy Forum, Elizabeth Barnert and colleagues - an interdisciplinary group of physicians, scientists and human rights advocates - argue that a well-defined, replicable, scalable, and sustainable framework to collect and manage sensitive DNA data is urgently needed in order to play a part in helping reunite separated migrant families safely and ethically. "We recognize that no technology - including DNA analysis - is capable of reuniting all families; however, this inherent limitation cannot and should not serve as a rationale to avoid applying scientific tools to support the prompt reunification of parents and children whose whereabouts are unknown," write Barnert et al. The authors' call to action is particularly timely considering the upcoming release of the Biden Administration's Family Reunification Task Force's initial report, due on June 2, 2021. "Given the Biden Administration's executive order to reunite migrant children separated from their families by previous administrations, it is imperative that scientists and human rights advocates develop an international protocol that sets out guidelines and best practices for a DNA-led approach for family reunification," write the authors. While protocols and standards already exist for using DNA technology to identify the deceased, a global protocol for using DNA to reunite the living has yet to be established. Here, Barnert and colleagues provide an overview of how DNA-based strategies have been used in the past to identify the unknown and outline how a DNA-led framework for family reunifications could be established. They address scientific rigor, rights protection, ethical processes, trauma-informed protocols, and more.


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