EXCLUSIVE: As the Trump administration speaks out on the problem of child trafficking at the southern border, one Texas lawmaker is responding with a bill that would administer DNA tests to migrants who arrive in the U.S. claiming to be with family members.
Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas., introduced the End Child Trafficking Now Act on Monday. The bill would implement DNA testing at the border, and punish those caught trying to cheat the system with up to 10 years in prison.
The proposal comes in response to growing awareness of the fraudulent use of children by adult migrants to gain access to the U.S. The 1997 Flores court settlement limits how long children can be held in custody to just 20 days, meaning that adult migrants claiming to be family members will also be released into the homeland as their asylum cases are considered.
“Unfortunately we see that all too often now ... adults that are bringing children with them that are not their own to try and take advantage of what they perceive as a loophole in our law that would allow them to be released into the United States,” Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan told the House Oversight Committee last week, as he described how a DNA test helped thwart one migrant who allegedly "bought" a child in a bid to exploit loopholes.
“We’ve had egregious cases, including a 51-year-old man who bought a six-month child for $80 in Guatemala and admitted that when confronted with a DNA test by a Homeland Security Investigations agent conducting a pilot at one of our border stations,” he said last Thursday.
He also testified about the problem of “child recycling” that authorities were investigating, where children are used multiple times to get adults into the U.S.
“ICE now has three significant cases in multiple cities around the country where they’ve identified a small group of children, maybe five-to-eight children, being used by dozens of adults to cross our border seeking release into the United States,” he said.
Gooden’s legislation has its roots in a recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement pilot program earlier this year that tested the DNA of a sample of migrants coming in as family units and identified 16 out of 84 units as fraudulent.
“There are one in five cases, according to ICE, of groups of people coming over with children, saying ‘these are our children’ -- when they say that they get preferential treatment through the asylum process -- and then we have later found out they are not even related, so the DNA testing helps us to determine if they’re telling the truth or not,” Gooden told Fox News.
ICE officials also said that the program had a “strong deterrent effect” on those coming in, with many admitting to being part of a fraudulent unit before being tested.
Tests would consist of mouth swabs similar to those already in use by the State Department. The agency says that such tests are 99.5 percent accurate. There are exceptions in the legislation, including if migrants can provide sufficient documentation to show they are related.
Gooden, who was elected to Congress in 2018, has come to Washington with a focus on immigration, which he says is the number one priority of his constituents back home. In May, he introduced a bill that would cut funding from “sanctuary cities” that did not comply with ICE detainers. That bill did not gain traction in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
This bill could face similar opposition from House Democrats -- who have tacked significantly left on the issue of migration in recent years -- but Gooden is optimistic about its chances.
“I believe this should have bipartisan support, I can’t imagine anyone making an argument that we shouldn't ensure that traffickers are not trafficking and families coming across really are families,” he said.
“I would be shocked to hear of anyone being opposed to preventing child trafficking, but I’ve been shocked before,” he added.