Waltham company supplying DNA test kits to ICE
Used to verify whether families at border are biologically related
FEDERAL OFFICIALS ARE USING RAPID DNA testing kits produced by a Massachusetts biotechnology company to verify the family connections of immigrants at the US-Mexico border.
The kits, developed by Waltham-based ANDE Corp., were tested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a three-day trial in May in El Paso, Texas, that was extended for several months in July at a total cost of $52,000. The kits are now being used at five more locations along the southwest border.
Britney Walker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said members of 84 families suspected of fraud were tested over the initial three-day period. The DNA tests indicated 16 of the families included children who were not related to their alleged parents. The spokeswoman said criminal charges are being filed against the adults related to identity fraud, alien smuggling, human trafficking, and child exploitation.
Rapid DNA testing requires getting a cheek swab from the parent and child in question to determine if the individuals are close biological relatives. The test provides results in 90 minutes, much faster than regular DNA tests which often take weeks to process.
ANDE Corp. declined to comment. The company’s website bills its technology as a “vital tool in a government’s immigration policies, from identifying familial relationships to reducing the trafficking of children to identifying suspects crossing borders illegally.” It is currently the sole supplier of the rapid tests to ICE.
Grace Meng, acting deputy director for the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, said DNA testing is not the best way to deal with immigration fraud. She said sometimes a child’s primary caregiver is not the parent, but a negative DNA test could nevertheless result in separation.
“DNA testing is an incredibly overbroad approach to protecting children when there are more child-centered approaches that can be taken, such as having child welfare professionals evaluating children who seem to be at risk,” Meng said. “Family is not necessarily defined by DNA, and DNA testing will result in additional families being separated and traumatized.”
The ANDE contract for rapid DNA testing was included in a database of ICE contracts first compiled by Sludge, a publication focused on lobbying and money in politics.
Companies are coming under fire for just doing business with federal immigration agencies. In June, thousands of people protested a $200,000 contract between furniture manufacturer Wayfair and US Customs and Border Protection for beds being provided to a detention center in Texas, with protesters calling the company complicit with human rights violations.More than a thousand companies have received over $3.3 billion from ICE in exchange for services since early 2017.
Other Massachusetts-based companies who have had contracts with ICE over the past few years include Northeastern University, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Waltham, and Bedford-based Aware Inc., which focuses on fingerprint and facial recognition technology.