Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Tuesday said that it will expand a fledgling evaluation of technology on the southwest border that helps its agents verify familial relations to thwart fraudulent claims of adult aliens accompanied by minors posing as family units.

ICE and Customs and Border Protection earlier this month began a limited pilot evaluation on the border with Mexico of portable, desktop Rapid DNA devices that can provide a result within two hours of a sample being inserted into the machine. A May 28 posting on the government’s procurement website said ICE is seeking systems that can provide comparisons of DNA profiles in 90 minutes or less, helping agents to stop fraud and human trafficking.

ANDE’s Rapid DNA instrument. Photo: ANDE

Last week, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a Senate committee that the initial evaluations of the Rapid DNA technology have been successful that on the first day 12 adults came forward to say, “It’s not my child.” Already in fiscal year 2019, the Department of Homeland Security has encountered 3,500 cases of fraud in family relationships or adults claiming to be unaccompanied children, he said.

ICE, in a press release on May 16, said that HSI is still assessing the results of the pilot “but the technology has already been used to identify cases of fraudulent families and has served as a deterrent.”

ICE in its May 28 notice said that there has been an increase in fraudulent family relationship claims since early 2018, straining an overburdened immigration system.

“This fraud scheme involves adult aliens utilizing unrelated minors to pose as a family unit in an effort to secure release into the interior of the United States,” the notice said. “This activity has put a strain on the immigration system and exhausted border security resources.”

The ICE notice is a Request for Proposals (RFP) for at least 14 DNA processing units that will be deployed to seven locations under the program name Operational Double Helix 2.0. The locations aren’t being revealed because DHS doesn’t want to tip off human smuggling rings or other illegal aliens planning to fraudulently claim family relationships because they might seek to enter the U.S. elsewhere. ICE expects to change the deployment locations of the Rapid DNA instruments as migrant flows change.

“Based on the success of the initial operations, HSI and ERO seek to implement Operation Double Helix 2.0, once again utilizing Rapid DNA technology to identify fraudulently-claimed familial relationships made by aliens entering the United States,” according to the statement of work accompanying the RFP.

HSI refers to Homeland Security Investigations and ERO is Enforcement and Removal Operations, both of which are part of ICE and are working together in the initial Operation Double Helix pilot.

ICE plans to make a single award for a five-month base period beginning on June 15 with one five-month option. The minimum value of the upcoming contract is $1 million. DHS used devices supplied by ANDE for Operation Double Helix.

ICE said it expects no more than 50,000 tests will be done during the base period and up to 50,000 more if the option is exercised for Double Helix 2.0.

Agents use swabs to collect samples from selected aliens and then enter the biological matter into the Rapid DNA instrument for processing. ICE said that it will select family units for the testing based on observations during interviews, intelligence, documents, and investigative data. No DNA information will be stored.