NIH Sep 17, 2018 | R01

Genomics, Biometrics and Identity

Principal Investigator(s): Katsanis, Sara Huston


FOA Number: PA-17-444


As concerns for border security increase, policymakers are turning to genomics as a biometric for tracing individuals entering the country, identifying missing migrants' remains, processing refugee claims, and screening for human trafficking. Increasingly, genomic information is a part of legislation and policy as a universal and sustainable biometric. Genetic verification of claimed relationships is required for some refugees and proposed legislation would expand this practice. Efforts to thwart fraud and human trafficking at the border include use of DNA relationship testing to verify claims. In addition, immigration courts are considering DNA testing for ancestral origin to verify refugees' ethnicity claims, which may help stateless persons and refugees seeking asylum that lack citizenship documentation and travel papers. The U.S. has had the authority to collect DNA of immigrant detainees for the criminal database since 2009, and with mass disasters and terrorism a real concern, establishing broad public DNA databases could benefit disaster victim identification efforts and terrorism investigations, but also lead to stigmatization and push boundaries of human rights and Constitutional protections. In migrant populations, the use of biometrics in the U.S. could have profound implications on families both within the U.S. and in their countries of origin. Given the international attention to the current migrant crises, policies in the U.S. are expected to expand over the next few years. This is likely to include the implementation of genomics for verification of claimed relatives, as is already policy in pre-existing visa programs, and increased use of rapid DNA instruments at the border. The social implications of these technologies applied in immigration practices, particularly in populations that could be considered vulnerable, are understudied and the potential impact of genomics as a biometric is undocumented. In this proposal we will examine existing and emerging U.S. immigration laws and policies that incorporate genomics. This project can inform development of emerging policies to minimize intrusiveness and mitigate the social implications of immigration decisions based on biological data. We will develop case studies and policy briefs to document the status of immigration policy using genomics and examine the oversight and reporting mechanisms in immigration DNA testing (Aim 1). We also will interview and engage with stakeholders and authorities involved in genomic testing for immigration cases to outline the potential risks and benefits both for individuals and national interests (Aim 2). Achieving these aims will bring clarity to the scope of how genomics is integrated into immigration policy, how new tools may be implemented in the near future, and what approaches may be considered to protect the privacy of persons while maintaining the integrity of the processes for the best interests of the nation and national security. The anticipated contribution of this research project will be data and policy analyses that facilitate policy development and program implementation in ways that promote the equality and dignity of all humans.




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Start Date:
Sep 17, 2018

End Date:
Jun 30, 2021



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