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Fri Jun 22, 2018, 09:49 AM

23andme donating DNA kits to help reunite migrant families [View all]

23andme donating DNA kits to help reunite migrant families

https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/06/21/congresswoman-jackie-speier-asks-23andme-to-reunite-families-separated-at-border/

The CEO of the popular DNA-testing company 23andMe has agreed to provide DNA kits to help reunite the hundreds of migrant families separated at the border in recent weeks, after Congresswoman Jackie Speier approached the Mountain View-based company with the idea.

“They have committed to providing all the tests necessary to test the parents and the children,” Speier told this news organization.

Speier, D-Hillsborough, said she met with a company leader Thursday to ask if they could use DNA kits to reunite children separated from their parents under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which aimed to prosecute anyone who crossed the border illegally.

They told her they’d consider the idea, she said. Speier then got in touch with CEO Anne Wojcicki, who agreed to take on the task.

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More than 2,000 migrant children have yet to be be reunited with their parents, despite President Trump’s executive order Wednesday reversing the separation of families at the border — families will now be detained together — and it’s unclear how exactly immigration officials plan to do so.

A spokesperson for Wojcicki declined to provide further details about the company’s proposal, but the CEO tweeted Thursday afternoon, “We would welcome any opportunity to help.”

We've heard from many of our customers that they would like to see 23andMe help reunite family members that were tragically separated from each other. Connecting and uniting families is core to the mission of 23andMe. We would welcome any opportunity to help.

— Anne Wojcicki (@annewoj23) June 21, 2018

Speier said the next step is to reach out to federal officials for direction on how to move forward with testing.

“It doesn’t change the fact that these children have been subject to clinical child abuse or that they’ve been scarred for life,” Speier said. “But I feel a little more confident that we’re going to reunite parents and children.”

Under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, parents and their children were sent in different directions: Thousands of kids went to juvenile shelters under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while parents were taken to adult detention facilities in other areas under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It’s this discrepancy that could make reuniting families extremely difficult.

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“I was just trying to think, how are we going to connect these two? How can we guarantee that the parents are going to get their own child back?” Speier told BuzzFeed, which first reported the news Thursday. “I’m thinking, how else are we going to do that? So I was encouraging them to look at whether or not they could provide some kind of assistance here.”

Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy sparked national outrage as images and audio surfaced of children crying out for their parents. Other images showed children in cages in detention facilities in Texas.

Border Patrol agents have said fears of trafficking and exploitation often lead to family separation, since adults and children who show up at the border aren’t always related. The Border Patrol logged 462 cases of fraud among children and family migrants in the Rio Grande Valley alone in the last five years, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Social justice organizations such as the ACLU said they’d support DNA testing to help parents reunite with their children, while others say it’s an aggressive tactic that would put people’s DNA in the hands of strangers with no knowledge of how it could be used in the future.

In a Tweet Thursday, Ivanka Trump said “it’s time to focus on swiftly and safely reuniting the families that have been separated.”

Now that an EO has been signed ending family separation at the border, it is time to focus on swiftly and safely reuniting the families that have been separated.

— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 21, 2018


Speier will travel to the U.S. -Mexico border in Texas Friday with a small group of constituents to speak to some of the families and to deliver clothing and other items to immigrant children.

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