happy mother and daughter piggyback“DNA testing has become the gold standard for immigration cases based on genetic family relationships much as it has for other areas of law such as family or criminal justice.” This is the introduction to a new article (as titled above) on DNA testing in Immigration cases, published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA.

The article’s authors include Dr. Michael Baird, laboratory director of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), which provides AABB accredited DNA testing services for immigration and other types of cases. As a member of the AABB for more than 20 years, Dr. Baird has served as chair of the Relationship Testing Standards Program Unit, and currently serves as a member of the Molecular Testing Standards Committee of the AABB.

The article focuses on the fact that DNA testing is currently used by government agencies to establish relationships for those seeking immigration, and that guidance and laws around the use of DNA testing has not evolved perhaps as fast as the science itself.

“DNA is not listed as primary or secondary evidence of a family relationship…the ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommended adding DNA testing as primary evidence of a family relationship,” and concluded that “Family reunification is a pillar of U.S. immigration policy. USCIS must be able to verify, and its customers must be able to establish, that the claimed family relationships that constitute the basis of eligibility for immigration benefits are legitimate.”

The article goes on to acknowledge that even though DNA testing is now common, and requires only a saliva swab rather than a blood sample, the guidance from USCIS and other agencies still leaves it as a last resort. Cases begin with paperwork—documents of evidence. It can take months to for the USCIS or DOS to process these supportive documents, and if in the end the adjudicating officer is not satisfied, he or she can “suggest DNA testing and direct applicants to a list of authorized laboratories to use.”

The overwhelming majority of immigration DNA tests are straightforward and provide definitive answers, in the form of establishing a biological relationship, or disproving such relationship. Dr. Baird and DDC perform hundreds of AABB accredited immigration DNA tests monthly.

In some cases, where close biological relationships exist (brothers, twins, cousins), it can be “very difficult to discern which one is the biological father because they may share many alleles. In families involving marriage amongst blood relatives (or “consanguineous” relationships), relatives may share an even greater number of alleles.” Alleles are the genetic markers used in DNA testing.

Further evidence of rare cases mentioned in the article are those of genetic mutations, mosaicism, and chimerism—a situation where a person has more than one complete genome in their body. These cases are very rare, and only a few labs in the U.S. are equipped to identify such cases.

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