The Trump Administration has decided to start using rapid DNA testing to determine whether children being brought across the border are related to the adults with them. This is a positive development, an action I have been hoping would be taken.
So, why am I not giving President Trump credit for it?
It’s not because I reflexively disagree with everything he does. I agree with this, so that cannot be the case. It’s not that I refuse to give him credit for anything good he does. I still support his decision to fight the increase in CAFE standards, for example.
There is a simpler answer: the available evidence demonstrates that he is not doing this for the right reasons.
The ACLU is arguing that the swab testing is an improper breach of the rights of the migrants, and that the data gained from the swabs may be improperly stored and used against them. I am inclined to agree with them on both counts, and I don’t mind.
I believe the rights violation involved is balanced out by the fact that these people are petitioning for something from the government – whether asylum or simple legal transit – and it is a reasonable step to take in the protection of minors from human trafficking. I believe the likelihood that private data is kept regarding individuals is fairly low, but because of the lawlessness of the Administration, I concede that it may happen.
With an administration that had previous stolen children from parents – children who have yet to be returned, and the exposure of whose theft triggered a defense of the policy rather than immediate apology and rectification – I find it very difficult to believe that they are acting now in the interests of children.
Rather, I believe they are looking for two sets of data to use in campaign ads.
The first are hard numbers regarding smuggling, which they hope to demonstrate is high. Currently, the numbers of gang members and other criminals coming across the border form a minute percentage of those seeking residency. Because they have been using those exceptions to promote their policy, they recognize that it is a dire weakness in upcoming campaign ads and debates. They wish to strengthen that case.
The second are hard numbers regarding illness. Once the swabs are taken, it will be easily justified to expand the testing to include basic illness screening. It’s already authorized, with good reason, at the borders, but the numbers again don’t bear up to the images President Trump (at, I expect, the behest of advisor Stephen Miller) presents of disease-ridden caravans traipsing north for free health care.
Like the gang activity, disease is a serious problem; what is at issue are the numbers, which do not support Trump’s rhetoric. The Trumpian press has been promoting large, unverified numbers of abuses which do not match actual filings by agents of Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice. The percentages associated to swab tests will, in the minds of many Republicans, prove Trump right.
They will be used to promote the idea that “child recycling” – bringing the same child across the border multiple times – is rampant, and thereby undermining the notion that any asylum seekers are honestly fleeing horrible conditions. It doesn’t matter how few are actually found to be doing so; there will be some, and the increase will be quoted as a percentage. Because so few are currently found, that increase will be a huge number and it will be sold to Trump’s fans as absolute proof of fraud on the border.
The Democrats are also looking at this in a purely political fashion. One example comes from Gizmodo, which takes their lead from the Washington Post:
Last year, ICE warned of a “315 percent increase in the number of cases of adults with minors fraudulently posing as ‘family units’ to gain entry” from October 2017 to February 2018. While that sounds like a concerning surge, a Washington Post analysis found that figure to be wildly misleading. The raw numbers—46 alleged fraud cases in fiscal year 2017 compared to 191 in the first five months of the 2018 fiscal year—show that just 0.61 percent of the 31,102 family units apprehended at the border during that time period were believed to have been fraudulent.Gizmodo
137 cases, even multiplied by a factor of ten, would not be a large percentage of people seeing entry into the United States. What is is, however, is 137 children who are separated from their families and put into abusive situations. Some of them are likely going to sex trafficking organizations; the others will face a variety of fates ranging from simple abandonment to being used as gang labor. Each one of these children is equally as valuable as one of the children seized during the zero tolerance policy. If we are to be expected to return those children, we should be doing what we can to protect other children coming across our borders.
As always, what would be best would be to address the actual problems with legislation debated through Congress and appropriate funding. A campaign to counter the belief, rampant through Central America as reported on NPR, that one is automatically granted asylum if a child is with you should be addressed as a possibility. Aiding in security and development in the countries beset by poverty and violence, so they don’t flee north. Investigating claims at local levels to determine if someone has a potentially valid argument for asylum. These and many other things can be discussed, but that is not happening.
The President doesn’t want it because it’s been a good campaign issue for him, even as he makes broad racist appeals. The Democrats didn’t want it during Obama, not least because it would have reminded people that the groups which brought instability to the region had been supported, in large part, by Barack.
Because of the benefit to the trafficked children I support the swab testing, even knowing that the numbers are going to be presented in a false way that seems to bolster the Administration’s arguments. I simply refuse to give an administration which has been consistently hostile to the very existence of migrants any benefit of the doubt that they are enacting this policy in defense of children. They have never cared before, and they do not care now.