23andMe Offers DNA Help for Families Separated at U.S. Border

Shortly after it became clear that a new “zero-tolerance” U.S. immigration policy would lead to the arrest and separation of all undocumented immigrant parents and children, people began asking genetic testing firm 23andMe to help out.

Today, the company’s CEO, Anne Wojcicki, said it was ready to help—albeit in an unspecified way.

She tweeted on Thursday afternoon: “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.”

A company spokesperson said that was all the firm was ready to say at this time. 23andMe offers inexpensive genetic testing that provides enough information to identify both close and distant relatives.

Over 12,000 children are under supervision of varying kinds from the U.S. government, with most arriving as unaccompanied minors and over 2,000 held separately from one or more family members accused of illegal entry. Reports indicate that some asylum seekers have also been detained and had their children removed.

Initial reports indicate that the U.S. government has done a poor job of tracking family relationships and where children are held, whether in detention facilities or in care facilities around the U.S.

Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, who is suing President Donald Trump for defamation and to be released from a non-disclosure agreement, also represents some immigrants held in custody. This morning, he posted a form on Twitter in which a client of his asked where her 7-year-old daughter was being held. The response: “I do not have this information.” Avenatti tweeted, “The response is the normal one for almost every mother I represent.”

A public defender in El Paso, Tex., Erik Hanshew, recounted judges’ anger at prosecutors having no knowledge of the location of the accused’s children. In an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, Hanshew wrote that one judge, upset when a prosecutor tried to dismiss a defense attorney’s request for the whereabouts of his client’s child, said: “If someone at the jail takes your wallet, they give you a receipt. They take your kids, and you get nothing? Not even a slip of paper?”

Jackie Speier, a U.S. representative from California, told Buzzfeed that she had spoken to the company about providing genetic-testing assistance to separated families on Thursday, although not to Wojcicki, who she knows. Speier says 23andMe told her, “They were going to think about it.”

Also on Thursday, another genetic-testing and genealogy website, MyHeritage, said in a statement it would expand its existing pro-bono service intended for adoptees to offer 5,000 free DNA tests for parents and children separated at the border.

Meanwhile, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, told the Daily Caller yesterday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was considering DNA tests as a way of verifying that family groups that cross the border without permission are related, and the adults aren’t child traffickers. The Justice Department hasn’t provided verification nor denied Perkins’ statement.

The Customers and Border Protection told CBS News on Tuesday that out of 59,113 apprehensions of families entering the U.S., only 148 cases involved the alleged fraud of people claiming to be parents of children when they were not.

Recently, genetic testing results, posted to a genealogy site intended to connect relatives, helped police track down a man alleged to be the Golden State Killer, a mystery for decades, and the alleged killer in a 1987 double-homicide in Washington State.

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