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Evaluating the Use of DNA for Family Reunification - Archival
DNA analysis allows for testing relationships (kinship) between two individuals in situations that vary from legal immigration to claimed parentage testing. This webinar focuses on the applicability of DNA testing for family reunification.
Original Live Webinar took place on 03/14/2018.

Biometrics refers to measurable biological or physical characteristics that uniquely identify an individual. The use of biometrics in our world has become common place, from fingerprints unlocking your cell phone to iris scans at airport security. Only one of the biometrics can provide relationship results between two or more individuals, DNA. The application of DNA to relationship testing provides an opportunity to: verify familial claims; identify individuals; and reunite families. Current immigration policy in the United States allows the use of DNA comparison for family reunification when validating a biological relationship. However, the opportunity to utilize this biometric is reserved as a last resort in most U.S. family reunification cases. The use of DNA for immigration processes would remove significant barriers and expedite validation of relationships thus replacing and/or supplementing paper documentation or witness accounts. 

Generally, family reunification involves citizens, or holders of a long-term residence permit in a given country, to bring their family members living abroad into the country. Across the globe, family reunifications are one of the major drivers of legal immigration; therefore, obtaining solid proof of family relationships is paramount. Relying upon written documentation as relationship provenance is often difficult, especially for families whose country of origin does not use official documentation to establish identity, or where those papers have been lost or destroyed due to politically unstable situations. To combat these issues, some countries use DNA testing to resolve cases where they consider the information from documents or interviews presented to be either invalid, incomplete, or unsatisfactory. Based on available data and document analysis, evidence suggests DNA testing has been included in family reunifications processes, to help confirm a biological link between the sponsor and the applicants, in at least 21 countries. 

DNA testing for family reunification cases boast increased precision, decreased error rates, and established prices as advantages over traditional methods of identification. Additionally, biological relatedness outside of the nuclear dynamic to include siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, or nieces/nephews might be helpful in the prevention of child trafficking and fraudulent family reunification. Limitations may include human errors occurring during the procurement and analysis of samples.  Sociological issues raise concerns in the biometric community because the implication of a “family” being solely a biological entity reduces the socio-biological complexity of a “family”.

This presentation will explore and compare the legal frameworks and regulatory practices for DNA testing in family reunification cases throughout various countries. The international legislation, regulation and common practices will be identified and compared. Furthermore, standards for accreditation and acceptance of results will be discussed; not all countries could be evaluated to this level, but a basic standard will be exposed. Finally, a brief discussion on the sociological implications that the biometric community finds most pertinent. 

Detailed Learning Objectives:

1. Define the scope of family reunification as part of immigration policy on a global scale.

2. Understand the application and implementation of DNA testing for establishing biological relationships amongst members applying for immigrant status.

3. Identify the key advantages and disadvantages of various policies applied within the countries discussed in this presentation.

This webinar was recorded in its entirety at the time of the Live event in order to capture the one on one interaction with the presenter.  Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence event has been provided by the National Institute of Justice.


Rachael Holderle
Graduate student studying Forensic Molecular Biology at The George Washington University. She currently conducts research for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate in collaboration with SNA International.