The efforts to reunite migrant parents and children separated at the border has been described as chaotic, with no clear system in place. Now, genealogy companies are stepping up to the plate.
Since the Department of Justice announced in April that it would require border agents to "adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy," prosecuting any adults who entered the US illegally or seeking asylum, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents.
President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 that reversed the policy of separating families in favor of a new policy that families be detained together, but the administration has not shared any plans for reuniting the children and parents separated already.
Multiple reports have described the situation as chaotic. Former ICE director Joe Sandweg has speculated that some of the separations could be "permanent."
“You could be creating thousands of immigrant orphans in the U.S.,” he told The Hill.
Now, however, genealogy companies more often associated with family roots have stepped in.
MyHeritage, which already runs a pro-bono program called DNA Quest that helps reunite adoptees with their biological families through DNA testing, has reached out to government agencies and NGOs working on reuniting migrant families to offer DNA tests.
"In recent months, the detention of migrant families involved divergent paths for parents and children, making it hard and sometimes impossible for each to track the other through the separate systems," they explained in a release.
"In recent months, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has not always been able to identify children on behalf of the parents searching for them and children are not always notified of their parents being deported, lessening the chances of the parents and children ever being reunited."
In the midst of this web, DNA testing could be a fast and efficient way of reuniting families.
Following the recent separation of children from parents in immigrant families, we're expanding our pro bono initiative, - DNA Quest - by providing 5000 DNA tests, to help those families reunite.https://t.co/AWFMU32Iwy— MyHeritage (@MyHeritage) June 21, 2018
"DNA testing can accurately match between parents and their children, enabling parents to locate their children and reunite with them once the parents are released from custody or deported," they explained.
“In light of the humanitarian tragedy that has taken place, in which children have been separated from their parents, we have decided to rise to the challenge and take the lead in helping these families,” said Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage.
“By expanding our DNA Quest pro bono project to include families separated by the current U.S. border crisis, we hope to use the power of DNA testing yet again to do good, and to reunite parents and children who might otherwise never see one another again.”
Another big player in the genealogy and DNA space, 23&Me, has also said they will be happy to offer their services, though they have not yet specified what steps they will take.
Meanwhile, lawyers working with parents to locate their children have had few successes so far, citing inconsistent record keeping and a frustrating lack of information.
Per the Washington Post:
"Government officials say they have given detained parents a flier with a toll-free number for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the U.S. agency that is usually in charge of providing shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children. But not a single one of Goodwin’s clients had received one, she said. Lawyers maintain that when they have called the number, often no one answered. In some cases, when someone did pick up, that person refused to offer details of where children had been taken, the lawyers said. . .
"The U.S. government spent months developing the family-separation system, but authorities were struggling on Thursday to figure out how to reunite detained parents with children. There was no system for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handled the parents’ cases, to work on the issue with the refugee resettlement office, which is responsible for the children."
Now, genealogy companies are stepping up to offer their 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
This marks the second time in recent months that genealogy services have proved to be useful in capacities far beyond drawing one's family tree.
In April, it emerged that police in California used a DNA website to crack the decades-old Golden State serial killer case.