Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Lance Gooden claim their new legislation addresses child trafficking. History shows it’s rooted in racism.
Several GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation that would force immigrants coming into the country at the U.S.-Mexico border to take DNA tests to prove that any children with them are related to them, a racist practice with roots in the Cold War, which was pushed previously by the Trump administration.
On Wednesday, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn introduced her version of the End Child Trafficking Now Act, which would require the Department of Homeland Security to deport adults who refuse to take a DNA test. Texas Rep. Lance Gooden introduced companion legislation in House.
“Adults attempting to slip across our borders under the guise of being a parent or relative to a minor must be DNA tested to prove they are related,” Blackburn said in a Wednesday press release.
Blackburn claimed her recent trip to the border with a group of Republicans prompted her to take the action. The GOP had used that tour to drum up claims of a “surge” of asylum seekers, which they have pushed in recent weeks, insisting the supposed rise in immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border constitutes a so-called “crisis” stemming from lax immigration policies by the Biden administration.
Recent analysis suggests that there is no evidence to support those claims, with experts noting that border apprehensions were in fact higher under Donald Trump, and that any spike in numbers can be attributed to seasonal ebb and flow.
Though Gooden did not join that border trip, he has been pushing the “crisis” narrative as well. Introducing Wednesday’s bill, he added that it allows law enforcement to more efficiently evaluate claims of familial connection.
The bill mandates a prison sentence of up to 10 years for any immigrant adult who falsifies their connection to any underage children.
At the heart of the legislation is the Republicans’ “child recycling” claim that different adults are repeatedly using the same minors to enter the United States. Both lawmakers argued that their legislation would protect children from drug cartels and trafficking.
Data has shown that only a nominal percentage of immigrant children are unrelated to the adults with whom they are traveling across the border.
Between April and September of 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents determined that 170 children were unrelated to the adults in the family units they came together in — just 0.2% of the more than 60,000 family units apprehended in that time frame. A Washington Post report that year noted that at least some of the adults bringing in unrelated children were doing so not for nefarious purposes, but were paying parents to take the children to safety in the United States, as part of their own desperate attempts to flee violence and threats in their home countries.
Border agents already screen suspected cases of false parenthood or legal guardianship, checking birth certificates and other notarized documents that seem brand new, the Washington Post noted, rendering Blackburn and Gooden’s legislation mostly useless.
Other Republicans have made similar efforts in the past.
In 2019, the Trump administration proposed a draft rule to collect the DNA of undocumented immigrants in U.S. custody and place the results in a national database. To justify this, they used data from a federal pilot program to test immigrants’ DNA, which found that 19% of 84 families tested were not blood related.
What’s more, the racist practice of forcing DNA tests on those coming into the country has been employed to discriminate against other groups as well.
During the Cold War, people of Chinese descent had to prove they were children of U.S. citizens in order to enter the United States, a broader attempt to stifle immigration and stop supposed communist infiltration. The U.S. government tested thousands of Chinese immigrant children under the policy, ignoring non-biological kinship common among Chinese immigrants and insisting on blood relation.
Droves of European immigrants, meanwhile, were allowed to enter the country freely.
Experts have warned that similar policies now may be harmful to poorer immigrants from Central America who are seeking refuge in the United States.
“Child fosterage and informal adoption among poor and working-class Central American families are common. Amid epic levels of violence, orphaned children may be raised by or flee with someone other than their biological parents,” Nara Milanich, history professor at Barnard College, wrote for the Washington Post in 2019.
“Officials have repeatedly and baselessly charged that Central Americans bringing children across the border are ‘child traffickers,’ and negative DNA results would no doubt be trumpeted to reinforce that claim,” she added.