Tracing Windblown Seeds: Genetic Information as a Biometric for Tracking Migrants

Sara H. Katsanis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter explores how genetic information supersedes other technologies as a biometric for migrants lacking proof of identity. It also examines the inherent privacy and societal issues of using genetic evidence as a substitute for human identity. As concerns about border security increase around the world, policymakers are turning to genetic information as a biometric for tracing individuals entering the country, processing refugee claims, and screening for human trafficking. Since many migrants travel without proof of identity, genetic information is useful for establishing identity, particularly for verifying family relationships. The United States has had the authority to collect DNA of immigrant detainees for the criminal database since 2009, in large part to detect repeat border crossers and immigrants who commit crimes in the United States. In addition, recent efforts to thwart immigration fraud and human trafficking include use of DNA relationship testing to verify claims. In the future, immigration courts might consider DNA testing for ancestral origin to verify refugees’ ethnicity claims-an approach that might help a stateless person seeking refuge to provide evidence of country of origin. Each of these expanded uses of genetic information beyond traditional criminal investigations could result in stigmatization of individuals or entire populations if applied broadly. Moreover, the geneticization of families and individuals undermines the social constructs that underlie human relations and self-identity and could lead to discrimination against nontraditional families or revelation of unintentional family secrets that could endanger individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSilent Witness
Subtitle of host publicationForensic DNA Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Humanitarian Disasters
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9780190909444
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • DNA testing
  • Immigration
  • Migrants
  • Refugees
  • US-Mexico border

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Tracing Windblown Seeds: Genetic Information as a Biometric for Tracking Migrants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this