Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long and difficult process. Each year, however, the United States allows some refugees and immigrants to bypass the usual procedures if they are the spouse, parent, or young child of a U.S. citizen. Increasingly, however, the federal government has mandated that individuals must first prove their family relationship through expensive genetic testing .
The government, of course, has both a need and an obligation to prevent immigration fraud. At the same time, relying on DNA testing leads to a different set of problems. Most basically, it enshrines biomedical information as uniquely accurate and meaningful: more important than legal documents, a parent’s sworn statement, or a child’s obvious desire to be reunited with the adults he or she loves. Similarly, it implicitly declares that we are all defined by our genes. In addition, it defines family in narrow terms, omitting stepchildren and adopted children. Yet in many other cultures, it is common for adults to informally adopt nieces, nephews, cousins, or others when parents die or are unable to care for them. This is especially true in the war-torn areas where most current refugees were born. Relying on genetic testing also has the effect of denying legitimacy to polygamous families in which all wives may consider all children born into the family to be their own. Finally, mandated genetic testing can rip apart—rather than unite—families when it reveals that a child is not genetically related to a man long assumed to be his or her father.
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