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ELSI Friday Forum 2021

Migrant DNA: Context, Ethics and Legal Issues


This ELSI Friday Forum considers the ethical, social, and legal implications of the diverse applications of DNA technologies that impact migrants entering or resident in the United States. When migrating family members go missing or a body is found along a migration route, familial DNA testing may be used for identification. The Department of Homeland Security also uses rapid DNA testing to verify biological relationships between parents and children in immigration custody, with the expressed goal of detecting child trafficking and immigration fraud. And the government now collects DNA from all people in immigration detention for inclusion in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database, to process and identify people, calculate risks for facility staff and others in detention, inform decisions concerning continued detention or release, and solve past crimes. Although each of these uses of DNA presents its own issues related to consent, privacy, family integrity, and control over personal data, they share common issues regarding government collection of sensitive personal information. This is especially true in light of a history of governmental use of border-related issues to introduce, normalize, and expand surveillance technologies and practices. We will explore each of these issues in our discussion.

Our speakers are Sara Katsanis, MS, at Northwestern University and Vera Eidelman, JD, at the American Civil Liberties Union. The session is moderated by Paul Appelbaum, MD, at Columbia University.


DNA testing
human migration