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Will New DNA Testing at US Border Reduce Human Trafficking?

Will New DNA Testing at US Border Reduce Human Trafficking?

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By Dr. Brian Blodgett
Faculty Member, Homeland Security, American Military University

Like many countries, the United States continues to battle against human trafficking, but the results are not good.

Human trafficking includes sex and labor trafficking as well as organ harvesting. Many of those victims of human trafficking reside in the United States as citizens, making the U.S. in 2017 the leading country of federally identified victims, followed by Mexico and Honduras.

According to Polaris, a leading non-profit organization fighting human trafficking, there is no official estimate of the number of human trafficking victims in the United States, but an estimated 14 percent of runaways are likely child sex trafficking victims.

But the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), which receives and reports cases of human trafficking, showed an overall increase of 260 percent between 2012 and 2017 nationwide. From 2016 to 2017, the increase was 112 percent. Although the 2018 totals are not yet available, data from the first six months of last year show an approximately 120 percent increase in human trafficking.

The three leading states with reported human trafficking cases are California, Texas and Florida, the NHTH reported. In 2017, these three states accounted for 31 percent of the reported cases; 15 percent, 9 percent and 7 percent respectively.

Nationwide, sex trafficking accounted for over 71 percent of the reported cases and over 14 percent was labor trafficking. The remaining 15 percent were either not specified or a combination of sex and labor trafficking. Nearly 83 percent of those trafficked were female and 30 percent were minors.

DOJ, DHS, State Department Are the Three Primary Trafficking Investigative Agencies

The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report lists the three primary federal agencies in 2017 for investigating trafficking offenses as the Department of Homeland Security (833), the Department of Justice (782 cases) and the Department of State (169 cases worldwide).

As a result of the 2017 Executive Order 13773, “Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking,” DHS has increased its border security and immigration activities to prevent international trafficking.

DHS has trafficking-specific immigration options. One such option is the T non-immigrant status, also known as the T visa. T visas allow certain human trafficking victims and their immediate family to remain in the U.S. and work temporarily. In 2017, DHS granted T visas to 672 persons and to 690 family members.

T visa applicants must have reported the crime to authorities and agree to help in the prosecution of the crime committed against them. They also must demonstrate that their deportation would result in extreme hardship or severe harm.

DHS to Use DNA Testing at the Border on Families Traveling Together

DHS reported an increase of 315 percent from October 2017 to February 2018 in the number of adults traveling with unrelated minors whom they claimed as their children. Between April 2018 and this March, the Border Patrol identified over 3,100 parents and children accused of making fraudulent family claims.

In an attempt to identify these human traffickers and their victims, DHS will soon start a voluntary pilot DNA test program. The test will involve cheek swabs of adults and children traveling together as a family unit. Test results should be available within two hours to show whether or not tested individuals are related, “after which the genetic data is to be destroyed and won’t be used as evidence in any criminal case,” Fox News said. Adults who are legal guardians, and thus not directly related, would have to provide supporting documentation.

“This pilot is by no means a silver bullet for these investigations,” a DHS official told Fox News last Wednesday. “Trained professionals will continue to rely on a myriad of data inputs and their experience to determine whether a group presenting as a family unit is a fraud based on law enforcement observations, documentary evidence or other intelligence.”

Will DNA Testing Actually Reduce Human Trafficking?

Those unaware of the testing could result in greater apprehension of traffickers and granting T visas to the victims. Yet if the DNA pilot becomes an official policy at our southern border, traffickers will most likely find ways around the swab test, such as holding a family member as “collateral” while another trafficker accompanies the victim across the border.

Other methods that traffickers may use are fake marriage certificates from other countries or avoiding the border crossing sites completely. Additionally, some poor families will sell their children to ensure survival for the rest of the family and willing participate in illegal human trafficking, accompanying their child across the border.

While the DNA testing by DHS may help stop some of the human traffickers at our southern border, it will require the combined efforts of other federal agencies, as well as state and local governments throughout the nation, combined with increased public awareness of the problem, to halt human trafficking.

About the Author

Dr. Brian Blodgett is an alumnus of American Military University who graduated in 2000 with a master’s of arts in military studies and a concentration in land warfare. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 as a Chief Warrant Officer after serving over 20 years, first as an infantryman and then as an intelligence analyst. He is a 2003 graduate of the Joint Military Intelligence College where he earned a master’s of science in strategic intelligence with a concentration in South Asia. He graduated from Northcentral University in 2008, earning a doctorate in philosophy in business administration with a specialization in homeland security.

Dr. Blodgett has been a part-time faculty member, a full-time faculty member and a program director. He is currently a full-time faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies and teaches homeland security and security management courses.

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